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Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Character Plan

Oh, well, I restricted myself to an hour's reading, but nevertheless, read it and weep.  Given that I was born rooting for the Democrats, and that I am usually a tax and spend liberal and generally in favor of government regulation in order to fight back against the inherently abusive tendencies of capitalism as well as the problems resulting from original sin, I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry (appropriate to be reading it on January 20, 2017) as I worked my way through this document.  It should come with an application form for membership in the Small Government Society.

On page 5 you will find the theme: A few of our good fellow citizens have put this document together in order that we might live in something like Williamsburg, Virginia, or perhaps Carmel, California: a cute little town with matching designs that will remind us of fishing and our other history.  Not of course that the bulk of us have much fishing or cannery history, but we can pretend we do if only all the businesses will tart themselves up with fishies and nets and light fixtures that look kind of old-fashioned and the like.

Back to the theme:  "The overall theme of this plan is harmony between: ● the built and the natural environments; ● social and economic activities; and ● the present and the past."  Well, we should probably all be getting ourselves harmonized in just that way, not only the businesses, but our houses, and indeed our personal lives.  Each day, we might try again to harmonize our present and our past.  Surely, from that will come mental health.

It only applies to new businesses (or old businesses that are doing enough remodeling to require a permit).  The businesses all need to be right up in front of the passersby and right next to each other: a 10-foot setback in the front, and no parking in front, and no trash bins in front or visible, although small trash receptacles will be acceptable in front.  (I'd add that the small receptacles should all include signs saying that you may not leave bags of house trash in these receptacles.)  Now these rules don't apply to already existing businesses and precious few of them conform to these rules currently.  So the effect will continue to be a little this, a little that, and by the 22nd century if this character plan is maintained unchanged, maybe all the business will have come into conformity.

Should your business have bare ground around it?  No, there is a list of plants that you can/must put around your new business, and they'd better not be palm trees.  The Plan sneers at palm trees twice! Now, in fact, I'm no fan of palm trees because they look ratty in the winter, but if people like them, they're at least to my view amusing.  Only native plants need apply.  Cover your ground with Oregon Grape: it's cheap and when massed not particularly attractive, although the leaves are shiny and it's quite prickly.

What color do you want to paint your building?  I'm sorry, that's the wrong color: it has to be a Williamsburg paint color, even if Williamsburg is in Virginia and has nothing in common with Point Roberts.

There are more prohibitions on signs that you can shake a stick at, even if you're a fierce stick shaker.  And the rules apply to signs everywhere, although not temporary or sale signs, so much.  But one has to admire (while shaking one's head) at the specificity and details of signs that we're not going to approve of.  It's possible that the knit scarves that are on the trunk of a fir tree in front of my house are describable as "pennants" and thus are not allowed because they are visible from the street in front of my house and thus constitute a sign under this Plan.

And, finally, there is this: "Multiple-use malls, shopping, business, office and professional centers are allowed to have not more than two (2) free-standing directory signs for individual businesses if they meet the following requirements".  Well, forward thinking, I guess.  Who knows when Point Roberts is going to be having those "office and professional centers," not to mention "multi-use malls."  At least we already know what their signs have to look like.

It all looks like enormous over-reach to me, not least because I believe that this revision extends the coverage from just commercial properties to recreational commercial properties.  Next revision, they can extend it all to our houses and outhouses, and some day, we'll be a place that is as cute as a bug, but without regular and universal trash pickup.  This surely is what people are whining about when they talk about "the nanny state."

There are lots more details in the 42 pages (about half of which is devoted to signs).  Well, I didn't sign up to work on this project because I didn't think they were looking for people who thought the actual project was probably bad at the core.  So, I didn't make it any better.  But, I'm hard pressed to understand why, if this is such an important matter to the County, that no elected official has to stand up and recommend it.  At the County, they'll just say, "well, that's what the Point Roberts folks said they wanted."  But if this is what we want, I don't know why we don't get to vote on it.  Somebody ought to be accountable.  By just leaving it to an advisory committee of appointees representing whatever, nobody has to be accountable.

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