ELKO – The Redevelopment Agency has decided not to adopt Urban Design Overlay development standards into the city’s redevelopment plan, but will have staff explore its potential to serve as guidelines for other uses.
The decision was unanimous, save Councilman John Patrick Rice, who was not present.
“At our Feb. 9 meeting I asked to table this item. I didn’t understand what I was voting for, at the time, and since that time I’ve had a chance to look into it. I had questions that were answered and I did some background checking on it, with staff’s help,” Councilman Reece Keener said Wednesday.
The RDA tabled discussion at its Feb. 9 meeting as council members wanted more time to consider the impact of the document. Councilman Robert Schmidtlein said at that time there were too many “what ifs” and he didn’t want to vote yet.
According to documentation provided by the City, the UDO is to provide “specific building and site design guidelines” to implement the RDA Plan.
Rice said then that he wanted to make sure the RDA wasn’t just promoting a good idea but he was ready to move forward, especially in solidifying the role needed to be ambassadors for the downtown.
The UDO was first presented to the RDA in October 2013. The project evolved and was presented again to the RDA in June 2015.
“Originally the UDO was sold to the City Council as being a tool that would make it easier to rehabilitate old properties and easier to build new ones, but the emphasis was on doing remodels and such, and my concern, as I’ve looked at it … it made me very concerned about unintended consequences that we’d be looking at,” Keener said.
“After looking at it further, I’m of the mindset that the RDA should not adopt the UDO. It should, rather, be used as a guideline for development and not as something that’s codified … if this were to pass through as it is there would be many projects that would never be developed,” he told the board.
“I would agree with Councilman Keener’s assessment that there’s a high probability that requiring these guidelines would increase cost of development,” said Assistant City Manager Scott Wilkinson.
Schmidtlein said the UDO has been reviewed for some time and he has brought up issues in the past.
“I basically feel the urban design is getting too restrictive and onerous ...” He said, “Redevelopment, to me, has to be a buy in from a private developer to come forward and access what they feel is investing in the downtown corridor for whatever development it is.”
Schmidtlein said he does not agree with the 70-percent windows guideline, as a developer may want to create his or her own frontage. Bottom line, the UDO is not going to take care of all needs.
“I just feel this plan is going to hinder and not enhance development in the corridor,” he said.
Lina Blohm, a Redevelopment Advisory Council member, asked the RDA members if the UDO primarily involved new construction and not rehabilitation, as that was her understanding of the document.
Mayor Chris Johnson said the clarity wasn’t in the UDO, but that was a qualification that could be considered in adopting the plan.
Blohm said the document did not need to be done away with, but its purpose and use could be realigned.
“We’re not here to hinder investment in the downtown; we’re here to promote investment in the best interest of the community. Going forward, I think that needs to be foremost in our minds,” she said.
Catherine Wines, who has worked relentlessly on the UDO for a little over two years, said the standards have been available for review numerous times.
She said the fact that “this isn’t what we thought we were getting” is emerging now was disheartening and at some point, a yes or no decision needs to be made.
“John [Rice], who isn’t here today, certainly has expressed his full support for it … whether it’s adopted now or not, I’m learning about the strategies ... and I think that’s a benefit,” said Johnson.
If supported, he said there are a lot of different places this could still be applied to. Johnson said he would be in support of more discussion as there are different degrees as to how to implement it.
Councilwoman Mandy Simons said she couldn’t imagine making it apply to existing buildings, but only new developments in going forward.
“I think it’s important that we remember, we’ve had some testimony, that the reason we needed to pursue this UDO was because this is what we needed across the board in the downtown area to be successful in redevelopment,” said Wilkinson, explaining other testimony said if the UDO standards weren’t going to be put into code then it’s not promoting it far enough to achieve development.
Blohm also asked where this puts the storefront program, as many were relying on the UDO to establish those guidelines.
Wilkinson added the UDO is already in the storefront pre-application as suggested guidelines for that program, because it couldn’t wait on the finalization of the UDO.
Blohm felt the discussion was worthy. The calls for a yes or no could not aptly respond to the questions being brought up.
Johnson said there were options, including: direct staff to include it in the RDA Plan only, or move forward for codification.
He did not agree this was an up or down vote either, but also said the document would not completely go away.
“I think it’s important to remember that we have not even had these guidelines in place and yet our RDA has been very successful … when I look at it, I look at it through the prism this is Elko, and to me this seems too esoteric for our environment,” said Keener, explaining this is not Park City, Utah, or Ketchum, Idaho.
He said there are already complaints by developers that it is hard to build, and the UDO adds more layers of bureaucracy with the requirements.