Updated

College Station weighing architectural standards for new developments

By SOMMER HAMILTON

Eagle Staff Writer

The College Station City Council could approve new architectural standards Thursday to regulate what colors and materials commercial developers can use in their buildings, marking the city’s first sizable attempt to guide the appearance of major developments.

It’s a move many cities in the country have contemplated to ensure a baseline for development in the area, city officials say.

But some in the business and development community say they’re worried the standards limit their freedom of expression and could create a series of cookie-cutter stores and shopping centers in College Station.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled during the council’s 7 p.m. meeting Thursday.

In the proposed nonresidential design standards, future developments of 5,000 or more square feet — which includes almost all commercial entities in the city — must adhere to an earth-tone color palette with 300 options. Those with 20,000 square feet — about the size of Circuit City — or more also would be required to have stone or brick on 25 percent of the building’s facade.

The color options include shades of blue, green, gold and maroon. The palette, which was expanded last month from 30 colors, has no room for bright or funky hues that can be unattractive, Economic Development Director Kim Foutz said.

“We’re just saying, ‘Here’s your menu of choices — you make it work for you,’” Foutz said Wednesday. “Before, we had no menu.”

The standards will allow for “accent” colors that are outside the color palette. The accents, though, are limited to 15 percent of the building’s total square footage for smaller developments and 5 percent if a building is 150,000 square feet or more.

The city’s Design Review Board, a committee of residents, would select the palette this week if the City Council approves the changes.

Franchised entities, such as restaurants, could ask the Design Review Board to approve color schemes that differ from the palette, but Foutz said developers will have to show options for the store or restaurant’s appearance and will have to defend any major variances from the proposed design standards.

Local landscape architect Robert Ruth, a member of the Business and Land Development Forum, said the city shouldn’t restrict color and use of materials.

He said his chief concern is that anyone wanting to do something different will have to take their project through special — and more expensive — steps with the city to request permission.

“For them to tell you what you can and cannot do is boxing you into a corner where everything tends to look similar, though maybe not the same,” Ruth said Wednesday. “It limits every artist. The city has no business telling designers what colors to use and what materials to use. Those are the main tools of our trade.”

The standards also include limitations on the use of metal siding, which in the proposed ordinance can be used only on the sides of certain buildings if the view is obscured by shrubs or a wall. The metal surfaces, which under current ordinances can cover 40 percent of all buildings, also would be limited to the roof and accents on the facade.

More “islands” with greenery and trees in parking lots and at least 10 feet of green space between roads and parking areas would be required for buildings with 50,000 or more square feet.

Much of the development that has occurred in the past five years already meets the proposed standards, officials said. The issue is eliminating big metal buildings and blocks of parking that can detract from a community’s appearance, Planning and Development Director Joey Dunn said.

“We want a higher quality, and that does come at some greater cost,” he said. “But it’s indicative of the kind of community we want to create.”

Don Jones, a commercial real estate broker and president of the Business and Land Development Forum, said that overall the group is now satisfied with the standards. The organization of 120 developers, designers and real estate professionals worked with the city to make the standards less restrictive.

But some members, he said, are concerned the parking standards will limit the efficiency of space in a development. And he said others, such as Ruth, have argued that, philosophically, the city shouldn’t be involved in regulating architecture.

“We now feel it’s workable,” Jones said, complimenting the city administration for including changes to broaden some limitations and increase the size of the color palette. “Overall, I think this is a good thing to have. It establishes a baseline for quality development.”

The College Station City Council will meet at 2 and 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 1101 Texas Ave. The meetings will be aired live on Channel 19.

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