Council approves design standards

After two years of debate, an interim design guidelines and standards ordinance that applies to new construction of commercial, industrial, mixed use and multifamily buildings was approved by the Sequim City Council at its Monday meeting.

The ordinance will be in effect for one year and city staff will present a report on its successes and failures to the council after 10 months.

The vote was 4-2 with Councilors Paul McHugh and Walt Schubert voting "no." Councilor Bill Huizinga was absent.

The ordinance's stated intent is "strengthening the importance of maintaining Sequim's rural character" but the hottest item of debate was the creation of a "design review board."

Projects will be reviewed by city staff with an information sheet submitted to the design review board.

If a majority of the board's members have concerns, that would trigger a process that would include a public hearing.

City staff can make a recommendation that can be appealed to the board. The board's decision would be appealed to Clallam County Superior Court.

"This is one of the worst pieces of legislation to come before this council since I've been here," McHugh said.

Then he proceeded to recite a long list of requirements for design review board members that included extensive professional training or expertise.

McHugh said these requirements would favor a person's experience over general interest in how the city looks, restricting board membership to development professionals.

Schubert said there was no need for a design review board that would be just another political entity.

"I want to see standards, not guidelines," he said.

City Councilor Erik Erichsen said design review boards are necessary so citizens can be involved. Such involvement would prevent two drugstores being built across the street from each other, he said.

McHugh responded, "Are we really saying you can't develop your property based upon your neighbors? That's ridiculous," adding these standards only apply to commercial development not residential.

Hays said he has been both praised and victimized by design review boards. They are not perfect but they are very fair and having one will allow Sequim to grow, he said.

All cities that become popular places to live have design standards such as these, Hays said.

Sequim Planning Commission chairman Larry Freedman told the council the design review board should be advisory, with the city council making the decision instead of the board making the decision, and the next step being Clallam County Superior Court.

He also said the board should have time limits placed on its plan reviews.

"What do we expect of this board? We need something that can evolve over time," Freedman said.

Don Hall said these design standards have been discussed for two years and so the city should at least pass an

interim ordinance.

Sequim planning commissioner Ted Miller said idea was to make the design review board similar to the board of adjustment since most of the plan review is done at the city staff level anyway.

McHugh said businesses will be "shocked" when they see what this board controls. This ordinance will apply to all types of buildings not just big box stores, he said.

A business owner wanting to change the color of a building, build a fence or install a sign will have to go through an extensive application process that will include a vegetation plan, McHugh said.

Then a design review board member can request a public hearing and then an appeal isn't to the council but to Superior Court, which can take at least another two years, he said.

"This will mean no new construction," McHugh said. "Businesses will be shocked."

Hays responded, "Besides everything I've just heard being a gross distortion of the facts, I'm flabbergasted. This only applies to new construction."

McHugh and Hays began arguing before Dubois got the meeting back under control.

Schubert said delaying the vote another two weeks was not going to make a big difference and would allow people to calm down, but the vote was taken.

Following the 4-2 vote, Sequim planning director Dennis Lefevre said city staff could present a possible recruitment process for the design review board at a future meeting.

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