Idaho House decries 'planning police,' goes after city design-review powers

(Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-ReviewFebruary 25, 2014 

The Idaho House has backed a move to trim Idaho cities’ power to regulate building design, decrying the “planning police.”

“Markets should allow choice,” Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, told the House, opening the Tuesday afternoon debate on his bill, HB 480. “We need jobs and economic development in this state much more than we need the planning police mandating their vision of beauty.”

Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, said he’s had emails from cities and architects all over the state opposing the bill. “This bill gives anyone the right to build pretty much anything they want,” he said.

But Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, warned, “These are property rights issues, people. We’d better be careful.”

The bill would make design review requirements voluntary, preventing cities from requiring changes in proposed buildings for esthetic reasons.

It still would allow cities to impose design requirements in designated historic districts, and for signage, lighting, landscaping and screening. Cities also could still require conditional-use permits for some developments, and the bill allows regulation of surface finishes, though not structures. It also requires that all requirements be “clear, ascertainable and not based on subjective considerations.”

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, said in her district, a developer incurred big expenses because regulators made him move a heating unit just for esthetic reasons. It “ended up costing him a fortune,” she said. She said things have gone so far that she’s had “city council trying to tell people what color they’re going to paint the inside of the house.”

Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, said, “I don’t feel this bill goes nearly far enough.”

After much debate, the bill passed the House on a 50-17 vote, and now heads to a Senate committee. To become law, it still needs Senate passage and the governor’s signature.

Morse told the House, “The only thing that this legislation does is restrict a small right, the right of esthetic or beatification design for commercial and industrial structures.”

Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, co-sponsor of the bill, said allowing cities to regulate design of buildings amounts to a “beauty tax.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said, “I think the remedy, if someone is dissatisfied with a city design review ordinance, is to run for city council. That’s why we have local government.”

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