By Don Nelson
After more than two years of discussion, hundreds of hours of volunteer work, meeting after meeting for public input, and countless revisions, re-revisions and re-re-revisions, the Town of Winthrop’s updated Westernization code was quickly and quietly adopted last week by the Town Council.
It was a somewhat anti-climactic conclusion to a long process that sometimes seemed about to be bogged down in nit-picky objections, suspicions about intent and an ongoing debate — more than 40 years running now — about how the code will be enforced, and by whom.
Even now, the document’s chief writer and re-writer Steve Oulman told the council last week, there are a few small, inconsequential clarifications in wording that may be necessary.
A few clarifications were originally all that was thought to be necessary a couple of years ago when a volunteer group, the Westernization Design Review Board, began looking at revising the Westernization code because of concerns that it was too difficult to understand and use — and thus difficult to enforce at times.
The group’s goal was to make the document easier to understand and administer. But, as the saying goes, God — or is it the devil? — is in the details. Developing specifications for approved materials, fonts for signs, appropriate colors for building exteriors and other considerations ended up consuming a lot of time.
The updated document includes a statement of purpose that the code aims to “promote the economic and general welfare of the community by enhancing the overall visual attractiveness of the town through a thoughtful and consistent replication of history, design and appearance of a western frontier community as it might have looked around the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century.”
Among the most significant changes relates to code enforcement. The town’s westernization committee will no longer play a role in enforcing the ordinance as it has in the past. Instead, town officials and the council will have specific roles in enforcement.
On unresolved point of tension has been whether the town itself should be required to adhere to Westernization standards with its buildings and facilities. The potential expense that the town might incur has been a sticking point.
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.
Supporters have pointed out that Westernization is what has made Winthrop a popular destination town, and that only by keeping its look authentic and consistent can the town continue to rely on that substantial economic impact.