by Tara Morgan
For a volunteer city commission, Planning and Zoning has dominated the headlines of late. Last week, commissioners green-lighted the long-stalled 5.66 acre Whole Foods development. And on Dec. 13, in front of a packed audience including TV crews and members of the Simplot Family, P&Z unanimously overturned Design Review’s Oct. 13, split 4-3 vote denying Jack’s Urban Meeting Place.
The J.R. Simplot Foundation—which wants to drop $70 million on a seven-acre, eight-story educational and cultural development with above and underground parking—appealed the Design Review committee’s decision to P&Z, alleging that the committee had overstepped its authority, among other things.
“The commission can reverse the decision of the committee. The commission can retain jurisdiction over this project and hold design work sessions which are, and always have been, the conditions of approval that staff has insisted on through the design process,” said JoAnn Butler, speaking on behalf of the Simplot Foundation.
Though city planning staff recommended approving the project in September with a number of conditions, Design Review ultimately denied approval of JUMP in mid-October. The committee cited concerns about the non-pedestrian-friendly nature of the building’s elevated, two-block long parking structure, which includes unsightly spray-on fireproofing, the project’s vague landscaping plan, the lack of retail and other apprehensions about the building’s architectural design and color scheme.
“The design is overly aggressive and overly complicated and the disparate components distract from its function,” said committee member Elizabeth Wolf at the Sept. 29 Design Review meeting.
But the Simplot Foundation disagreed with the committee’s assessments and urged P&Z to take another look at the late potato magnate's memorial project, which will include meeting rooms, an amphitheater, a rooftop sculpture garden, multi-story slides and artists’ studio spaces.
“JUMP is definitely a departure in architectural style,” explained Butler. “It does not attempt to mimic existing buildings. It does what its owners want and strives to do what the plans for the city call for—a mosaic of delightful places, room for quirkiness, a place that contributes to the overall social, economic and spiritual well-being of the area.”
Jon Swarthout, founder of the children’s arts center TRICA, took the microphone to echo Butler’s sentiments, urging the commission not to be afraid of “fantastical design.”
“If they had to raise the money to do this, it would be impossible. We’re being given a gift in a package wrapped with a bow on top of it, completely funded by the Simplot Family Foundation and that is worth so much,” Swarthout said, as the room erupted in fervent applause.
To counter Design Review’s arguments that JUMP is merely a parking garage without substantial proposed retail or mixed use components, the Simplot Foundation dropped a line familiar to P&Z of late: future phases. All aspects of the project—from the 26-foot-tall ceilings to the ramp-less, column-less, above-ground steel parking structure design—allow for future development.
“The flexibility is in place to convert spaces within these areas ... they’re designed to be retrofitted, converted to office, retail, whatever is required that the market demands later,” said Butler.
“There is a 100-foot section of land on Ninth Street for future development, an 80-foot section on Front Street, an 80-foot section on Myrtle Street,” said project director Maggie Soderberg. “The foundation building itself could actually be wrapped with another building ... if there was a need for that.”
Ultimately, commissioner Brandy Wilson motioned to overturn the committee’s decision because one of their reasons for denial fell solidly under P&Z’s jurisdiction.
“I’m making this motion on the basis that Design Review was inconsistent with the purposes and objectives of the ordinance when they made their decision,” said Wilson. “I feel that when they started talking about floor-area ratio and use of the property, that overstepped the bounds of their authority.”
Wilson’s motion—which also recommended adopting the staff’s previous conditions of approval with the exceptions that alternative fire-proofing materials and color schemes would be further explored at future public work sessions—was seconded by Commissioner Anne Barker.
Though commissioner Doug Cooper commented that “the project asks a lot in terms of faith,” he agreed that the Design Review committee had acted inappropriately and voted, along with the rest of the commission, to overturn their decision. Applause, once again, echoed through the room.
Construction on JUMP could begin as early as next summer.