Supporter cites what he says are violations in Winthrop
By Don Nelson
One of Westernization’s earliest and still most-ardent supporters told the Town Council last week that Winthrop is too slipshod in enforcing downtown’s theme-based building appearance code.
John Lester, whose family has been doing business in Winthrop for decades including ownership of the White Buck Trading Co., said he asked to speak to the council because he became aware of recent efforts to seek compliance with code requirements having to do with benches on the town’s wooden boardwalks.
Lester said he “was inspired that the town would do some code enforcement” but declared the action “about a decade overdue.”
But Lester said the bigger problem is inconsistency, or outright negligence, in enforcing Westernization requirements for how buildings should look, what materials they use and what kind of signage is appropriate — all toward the goal of creating a downtown with the authentic feel of a late 19th-century western village.
That authenticity is what drives Winthrop’s economy, Lester said, and maintaining it is vital to the town’s future.
Lester cited an example from his personal experience. In 1996, he asked the town for permission to convert a private residence to business usage, and was told that couldn’t happen without extensive revisions including new windows, roof and siding, Lester said. Lester chose not to make the changes. But later, that same building became Red Hen Trading Company, Lester said, without completing any of the changes the town had earlier required.
Lester wondered how that was allowed to happen, he told the council.
He cited what he said are other “blatant violations of the [Westernization] ordinance” in various downtown buildings, and suggested that the new Arrowleaf Bistro building under construction just south of the Methow River bridge “looks like any office building you might see in Omak or anywhere else.”
“There are too many violations to mention them all,” Lester said. “There is no incentive to doing things right because there is no penalty for doing anything wrong.”
Referring to recent discussions about what kinds of benches are allowed on the boardwalks, Lester added that “the town is not exempt from its own ordinances … you better make sure you are on board too.”
“There was a time when noncompliance was not a popular thing here,” Lester said. He urged the town to “get off the centerline and enforce all town ordinances, not just the ones that are easy.”
“Please give this Westernization theme the consideration it deserves,” Lester said.
The town’s Westernization Architectural Committee (WAC) has been working on updates to the ordinance to make it more consistent with other town codes. The Westernization codes have been in force since the early 1970s, when the town and its business owners embraced the concept as a way to spur tourism. The committee’s goals include maintaining and reinforcing the town’s commitment to Westernization, making the code’s structure easier to deal with, and emphasizing mandatory code enforcement.
In the past year, the council has opted not to accept two WAC enforcement recommendations. The WAC had urged that the town not approve a Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) request to install an electronic message sign within town limits, pointing out that it violated the Westernization code. The council OKed the sign, but WSDOT subsequently made the issue moot by deciding to locate the sign outside of town.
The WAC also had recommended a citation and fine of $1,250 against the Abbycreek Inn because its owners were in violation of the code while revising the motel’s sign after they learned that the previous name (Alderbrook Inn) was a possible trademark violation. The council didn’t dispute that the WAC’s findings were accurate, but declined to levy a penalty.
Earlier this year, Craig Lints, former owner of the River Run Inn, told the council he has seen a steady deterioration in enforcement or even acknowledgment of the Westernization code in recent years, and urged the town — for the sake of its future — to start cracking down on violators.