City Council's decision to approve the plans for a new Federal Express building in the industrial park along Elk River Road was met with applause from the more than 20 people who attended the meeting last week to support the project.
We join them in their praise of the approval.
FedEx is important to businesses in this town. It provides a connection between customers and suppliers that many cannot do without. How disappointing it would have been to see FedEx pack up in frustration over what became a grueling planning process and relocate to the Hayden airport. At the very least, it's disappointing to know that uncounted dollars were wasted because FedEx couldn't hit a mark it didn't know it had to aim for.
A final decision on the FedEx project took longer than expected and longer than it should have. The plans went through the city Planning Commission twice and were recommended for denial twice. (The second review resulted in a split vote that amounted to a technical recommendation for denial.)
The problem the planning panel had with the building was the way it looked. They especially didn't like the fact that five garage doors would be visible from Elk River Road, considered a "gateway" to the community. The building was designed that way to allow FedEx drivers to get in and out easily especially in winter months.
Some members of the Planning Commission and City Council will argue that the ends justified the means in the FedEx case. They'll say that, yes, the approval process took longer than normal, but the city ended up with a better-looking building because of the time spent addressing design issues.
We think the Planning Commission was a little picky about the aesthetics of a building that will be part of an industrial area. But our concerns about the FedEx project don't really lie with how the building looks. We're concerned about the process the FedEx developers had to go through before they drew up a design that was deemed acceptable by the city.
If city officials are going to hold up projects over a subjective issue like attractiveness, they ought to base such decisions on unambiguous regulations or the opinion of qualified members of an architectural review board. The design guidelines on which the Planning Commission used to base its FedEx decision are ambiguous. That ambiguity is the reason, as City Council President Kevin Bennett rightly pointed out, the FedEx developers didn't know garage doors would be such a problem.
The city is way past due on finalizing a new Community Development Code, a promised document that will clarify development criteria for those seeking permits. Yet we regularly see projects like FedEx that are subjected to subjectivity. It's costly and it's unfair. And if the city doesn't fix the problem, someday it's going to find itself in court facing an angry, confused developer wasting more time and money.