Citizens speak out against proposed development standards
By John Fortenberry
“Highway 16 is ugly. There is just no way to sugar-coat it.”
And Katherine Lambert didn’t even try.
During a public hearing last week about proposed development standards for the Denver area, Lambert said that she is embarrassed to bring people into the area because Highway 16 is so unsightly, and she specifically pointed to Unity Church Road-Highway 16 area.
Lambert said she has to tell her friends and family to “close your eyes” when she drives along Highway 16 taking them to her Westport house.
“It’s an eyesore,” she says. “Give me $10,000 and I’ll fix four blocks on 16.”
“Can’t we get together to and try to make our community better?” asked Lambert. “We need to take pride in our community and not have vested interests in keeping it ugly.”
But Lambert was a minority voice in last week’s public hearing on the East Lincoln Development District, and her comments were interrupted by one man who didn’t like anything she had to say.
Gerald Henley stood up, pointed at Lambert and shouted: “Go back where you come from!”
He was quickly gaveled down by Planning Board Chairman Jeff Frushtick.
Most speakers urged county leaders to leave well enough alone, and said that additional development standards would further hinder small businesses that are already suffering.
“I’d like to see everything in the county improved, but not on the small businessman’s back,” said Joe Turbyfill. “Put the burden on the large stores.”
The development district was created to address growth opportunities in rapidly growing east Lincoln, and county officials pointed out that even though growth has slowed because of the recession, it will return. County planners outlined some of the proposed standards that would apply – primarily along Highway 16 , Denver’s “Main Street.” The standards would regulate building site development, building design, open space, signs, ease-of-access and other things in an attempt to make the area more visually pleasing and safer for motorists and pedestrians among other reasons.
Speaker-after-speaker blasted the development standards, and singled out tougher sign regulations as one of their major concerns.
“County government should be a friend of small business not an adversary,” said Mark Cotter who owns a sign company and marine supply business.
“Small business is under attack again,” said Cotter. “Denver has turned into a Wal-Mart town that forces people to shop elsewhere.”
Cotter was especially upset with the proposal that would eliminate the use of yard signs by small businesses.
“These are important to small businesses,” said Cotter. “The real sign pollution is from politicians, real-estate companies, and non-profits.”
Cotter also suggested the county should have some kind of tax break “to invite and help small businesses survive.”
“Big business is trying to kill small business,” said another resident.
Meanwhile, others see the importance of planning, but also find issue with the new standards.
“Planning is the best investment you’ll make,” said Denver Area Business Association spokesman Jessica Lamb. “But please don’t take away the use of personal signs for a business. They are a valuable tool.”
The majority of those who spoke seemed to be more concerned about government in general rather than the specifics of the development plan.
“The government is taxing us to death, which makes it more difficult to pay taxes, make a profit or create jobs,” said Gerald Johnson. “Lincoln County revenue went up 82% in the last ten years and so did our taxes. Personal debt went up 84% in the last ten years.”
“Adding fixed forced costs increases our budget, which increases costs for everyone,” said Ronnie Caldwell, who owns an extermination company. “There are no jobs here, and we need to do everything to make this a place for business.”
Among the fixed costs Caldwell is referring to is the new standard for signs.
“Is it necessary? he asked. “Does this have to be dealt with right now?”
Caldwell said he believed rules are necessary, but that people need to be respectful of each others’ property.
“Pretty is nice, but most of the time pretty is expensive,” said Jeff Parker, who owns several buildings on Highway 16. “I’d go out of business if I wasn’t visible because of shrubbery.”
One of the proposed rules deals with landscaping, but those rules – and most of the others – won’t apply to existing buildings unless the use of the building changes.
As the county planners seek to apply the standards established for the ELDD, there is a growing rift among some members of the community about how the standards will apply – and even if they are needed.
County officials stressed that the plan is flexible.
“As long as you can meet the intent of the code, we’ll try to work with you,” said environmental planner Rob Carson, who said exceptions to the plan would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“Every property is going to be different,” he said.
The county hopes with establishing standards and planned development, the community will grow and prosper in a planned, orderly way.
“Your input will help create a proper document for the community,” said board chairman Frushtick, who said that the planning board members heard what citizens had to say and will take those comments into consideration as they work further on the development plan.