Steamboat Springs The city's proposal to create an architectural review board represents the most profound change in the new Community Development Code, said the city's planning director.
But while professionals and consultants are generally supportive of the concept, few can agree on the details.
The board, as proposed, would be made up of two architects, a design professional, a Planning Commission member and a member of the Historical Preservation Advisory Commission. The city's consultants on this issue, Winter and Company, have recommended the City Council select the board members to two-year terms.
The board would be responsible for reviewing the architecture of development projects to make sure they conformed with the city's architectural guidelines.
Under the current code, the architecture of every project is reviewed by Planning Commission and City Council.
The new code proposes to do away with architectural review at the council and Planning Commission levels, allowing professionals and specialists to decide on issues they know intimately.
"It's a specialty group for specialty items," said local architect and Planning Commission Chairwoman Shelley Pastachak.
City Council could still call a project up because of architectural concerns but would not likely make as many architectural decisions.
The Planning Commission would review projects for mass and scale but would not require architectural plans at the initial stages of review. That change was made in part to keep the costs of presenting a development application down. Because architectural and engineering plans can cost a lot of money, the city decided those plans need not be drawn up unless the project is given the OK on bigger issues like mass, scale and density.
The two-step development process was designed also to allow for more professional opinions on what many see as a professional matter, said Planning Director Wendie Schulenberg.
That change cuts into a premise at the basis of many of the decisions made about the new CD Code. The code is designed to allow more professional input into a process that is often dropped in the laps of untrained elected officials.
Just as the city's trained planning staff will become more involved in decision-making through the planning director's approval process, which appoints the director the final arbiter on approving development permits, the city is also hoping to take much of the responsibility for critiquing design out of the hands of elected officials.
The role of Planning Commission and council on the front lines of architectural review under the current code has caused some controversy in recent years, as design professionals can sometimes be denied permits based on what many believe are shaky grounds.
For instance, architects from West Elevation brought a townhome project on Village Drive called the Flat Tops in front of both Planning Commission and City Council last year only to have the project rejected by both bodies on architectural grounds. The architecture was deemed "innovative" by City Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner, but council wasn't comfortable approving it. A few months later, after the architects retooled the design to make it conform with surrounding buildings, the project was approved.
"I definitely support the concept of having licensed, trained professionals review and decide on the issues, as opposed to having non-trained people who maybe don't have as much experience in reading plans and elevations," said Katie Kiefer, an architect from West End Elevations. She said the firm wrote a letter to the city supporting the concept of the architectural review board.
However, some Planning Commissioners are worried a development permit without architectural plans will be difficult to judge.
"If Planning Commission reviews applications with only mass and scale drawings, we won't have enough information to make a determination," said Commissioner Joe Fogliano.
Commissioner Kathi Meyer echoed Fogliano's concerns.
"We would make decisions on only half of the pie," she said.
Another worry, among both commissioners and consultants, is that having architects on a legislative board could lead to a number of conflicts of interest. Because the community of architects in Steamboat Springs is a small one and many of the architects have worked together, they may have trouble critiquing each other's work objectively.
Consultant Ray Kramer of Winter and Company, which is working on revising the city's architectural guidelines for Old Town in addition to helping out on the CD Code, said architects in general are often hesitant to critique another professional's work.
The architects on the board would also not be able to present their own projects to the city, a problem Pastachak has run into in the past as a planning commissioner. The city's conflict of interest policy precludes members of boards from making presentations to any city commissions or councils.
"If you can't present projects, it becomes difficult to make that decision to be on the board," Pastachak said.
Pastachak said she has often been frustrated that although she works on numerous projects, she has been unable to present them since she joined the commission. She added that she would not likely be interested in serving on the architectural review board.
Meyer also noted that if the city would require there to be at least one architect on the Planning Commission, it may not need to create an entirely new board.
The board, as well, might not be open to the public, Schulenberg said. The public, if invited, could disrupt the meetings by bringing up other factors of the project beyond the architecture and sidetrack the process, she said.
Pastachak agreed that opening the meetings to the public could end up subverting the process.
"Taste is so subjective," Pastachak said. "If it's a political process, it will be very difficult. With good guidelines, there is always room for people to have input on the things that impact them."
Meyer said if the board is closed to the public, it should have at least one citizen on it.
Kramer, the consultant, said most other jurisdictions that have architectural boards open the meetings to the public.