Details of draft get thorough review
By Don Nelson
A proposed update of Winthrop’s Westernization code got its first meaningful public airing Monday night (May 9), and faced some sharp questioning by many of the 20 or so people who attended.
Members of the Westernization Design Review Board, the volunteer group that has spent more than a year reworking code language that sets standards for the appearance of downtown buildings, were peppered with queries and comments about the proposal during the two-hour meeting. Technical, logistical, practical and legal concerns were raised about how Westernization should be defined and enforced.
Many of those in the audience were downtown business and/or building owners who share a particular interest in the ordinance that defines, in detail, what their buildings must look like to conform with Westernization expectations.
Most of the public feedback was fielded by Steve Oulman — a retired city planner who took the review board’s ideas and research and turned them into the draft document — and review board member Ron McCollum. They repeatedly assured the audience that the draft can still be modified before it goes to the town council for a hearing and ultimate approval. Some changes suggested by the town council have already been incorporated.
McCollum said the review board would take all of Monday’s comments and questions into account and draw up a revised draft document that will be the subject of another public discussion before the council sees it.
Other review board members are Vicki Caldwell, Lauri Martin and Kristen Smith. Their goal was to make the code easier to understand and administrate, while keeping the original intent of Westernization intact — that is, to create a colorful destination point whose appeal can last for decades.
Pointing to the huge crowds in town last weekend for the annual ’49er Days celebration, McCollum noted that “there is no question as to why we do Westernization.”
Replicating an era
Winthrop’s Westernization theme is based on replicating the design and construction typical of western frontier communities between 1850 and 1900. The code spells out in detail what that means for businesses in the downtown Westernization district, where conformance and authenticity are considered key to the town’s success in drawing visitors.
Westernization was adopted and embraced at about the same time the North Cascades Highway opened in 1972, to increase tourism interest in the town. The Westernization code and its enforcement have been a nearly constant matter of discussion — and debate — ever since.
A major topic at Monday’s meeting was how nonconformance to the code would be defined, and what enforcement might look like. Oulman said the draft document’s original wording will be substantially revised to lessen concerns about how nonconformance would affect buildings in the Westernization area.
Doug Mohre, owner of Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe and a former member of the town’s Westernization oversight committee, said that if the code required that any minor alteration to a building would also require that it be brought entirely into compliance, “it will lead to people leaving their buildings alone and doing nothing with them” because of the expense.
Other questions touched on the color palette for signs and buildings, acceptable type fonts, the meaning of “authentic” as it relates to the defined Westernization era, lighting, boardwalks, the potential impact of a river walk along the Chewuch River (which would take users past the backs of many downtown buildings), and the town’s attitude and approach toward downtown businesses it wants to conform with the code
“I know people want certainty,” Oulman said near the end of the meeting. “I’m not certain I can deliver that tonight.”