If you’re heading for the McDonald’s in Hailey, don’t try looking for tall golden arches. They don’t exist.
Similarly, the Albertsons grocery store on State Highway 75 doesn’t look like a typical Albertsons. Instead, it’s a plain beige-sided storefront, with a flat Albertsons logo on it.
A number of Idaho cities, particularly resort communities like Hailey, have the clout to ask national retailers with recognized branding to design their buildings to fit in better with the community.
“We require design review on all commercial buildings with standards that talk about scale and compatibility,” said Lisa Horowitz, community development director for Hailey.
For example, because the city doesn’t allow tall, free-standing signs, the McDonald’s, built in the late 1990s, has a monument sign on the ground with golden arches on it.
“I think they know when they go in certain environments they have to change their design,” she said, noting that it resembles the McDonald’s in Aspen, Colorado.
“I think it’s the smallest Albertsons in all of Idaho,” she said. “They have embraced the design standards we have here.”
The city is now working with Marriott on its new Fairfield Marriott.
“It has unusual building colors and design,” as well as a different look to its porte-cochere, where cars drive up to the lobby, she said.
Some areas don’t have restrictions specific to chains but have general restrictions in zoning code. For example, because Sandpoint wanted to maintain the traditional development pattern of downtown commercial areas, the city requires buildings built to the street, with parking to the side and back, said Aaron Qualls, director of planning and economic development.
“For some national retailers, their contemporary design pattern is to set the building far back from the street,” with parking between the street and the building, he said. “It’s built more for cars than for people.”
Other design restrictions include some sort of delineation of floors “so you don’t get blank, huge, monotonous walls,” a certain amount of window coverage on the ground floor, and some breakup of the façade for buildings over 50 feet, Qualls said.
Driggs and Victor have similar restrictions, said Doug Self, community development director for Driggs.
“Contemporary interpretations of Driggs’ agricultural ranching history and rural-mountain surroundings are required,” notes its code about chain stores. “Designs that detract from Driggs’ sense of place and uniqueness are not permitted,” such as large blank walls, chain store designs seen in other communities, suburban strip malls and highly reflective glass, the code continued.
National chains locating in Driggs have had to add “base” and “top” elements to the façade, remove floor-to-ceiling storefront windows, incorporate materials such as stone and timber, break up large blank walls, and add canopies over sidewalks and walkways, Self said. In addition, like Sandpoint, Driggs doesn’t allow parking between the street and the building.
In an era where brick-and-mortar stores have declined, Driggs’ approach has been successful, Self said. Since 2006, national chains located there include Family Dollar, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Kings, he said.
“Driggs prides itself on its unique retail and restaurant businesses, and attractive, pedestrian-oriented shopping areas, where sales have increased every year since the recession, despite the internet takeover of retail in general,” he said.
In response, some cities that aren’t resort communities are pushing back as well. In 2008, Kuna pressured Walgreens to come up with a more attractive design.
“They proposed a vanilla box with almost nothing special to it,” said Troy Behunin, senior planner. “At the Design Review meeting, the committee asked why the Eagle store was given a lot more aesthetic considerations. The committee had the courage to require them to step up their game and follow the Kuna architectural guidelines. Walgreens responded with what you see in place today (with a different color and exterior rock added for texture and contrast). It was a good compromise.”
Similarly, in Meridian, neighboring residents are negotiating with a proposed Costco to make it look nicer, said Caleb Hood, planning division manager.
“When Costco originally came in and requested annexation, they had a prototypical building proposed,” he said. “The Council wasn’t overly enamored with the design, and neither were the neighbors. It had a warehouse feel.”
While the council approved the project, it told Costco it needed to work to blend the building in more with the community, and that work is underway, he said. Typically, such negotiations are done during design review.
“We try, as staff, to head that off before it gets to the hearing,” said Hood. “It’s not too often that the council says, ‘We don’t like that design, try again,’ because we were able to work with applicants and get a design that works,” he said.
“Not every community has a design review, but those that do are more likely to have a keen interest in how buildings will look in their community,” said KK Lipsey, business development director for CSHQA.
Some cities, such as Eagle and Idaho Falls, said they don’t do much to regulate national branding.
“The city of Idaho Falls does not currently regulate colors and so on that a business might use to brand them,” said Kerry Beutler, assistant planning director. “The city does have sign regulations related to height and size, but not for content and color.”
Robin Collins, Eagle economic development director, said the city never asks a business to change anything that has to do with content in their signs or brands.
“Eagle might, on rare occasions, ask that an aesthetic architectural element be added to the signage to make it more compatible with the architectural design of the building, or to soften a color ever so slightly so as to not be so bright,” she said.