Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle made an impassioned plea to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday to “lighten up” on sign design restrictions and encourage a bolder color palette for downtown buildings.

“We do not want the city to be a homeowners association,” said Haemmerle, referring to condominium associations that often enforce restrictive design rules and regulations.

Haemmerle presented a slide show of colorful downtowns from around the U.S. and Europe, including Wallace, Idaho; Telluride, Colo.; Munich, Germany; and Kitzbühel, Austria, all of which contrasted with the relatively bland color scheme of downtown Hailey.

“The color palette of Hailey doesn’t make my heart sing,” Haemmerle said. “I love the neon signs.”

Haemmerle called on the P&Z to “challenge” developers to come up with design ideas, citing a recent successful effort to incorporate a brighter red color on the walls of a Marriott Hotel planned for Main Street.

“That gave it a good amount of pop,” he said.

The P&Z welcomed the mayor’s input, but expressed a desire to move slowly on his ideas.

“Neon can be gaudy or it can be great,” P&Z Chairwoman Janet Fugate said.

She also mentioned the possibility of providing business owners with cans of paint if they choose to spruce up their buildings with more vivid colors.

Commissioner Sam Linnett said he approved of Haemmerle’s recommendation to encourage brighter colors on Main Street.

“It would be a little nicer to look at in winter,” Linnett said.

Hailey resident Carl Hjelm advised the P&Z to move “cautiously” with changes to its sign ordinance, lest the city be transformed too quickly. He said neon signs have been allowed since he served on the commission in 1994, but that they are costly and fragile and therefore not favored by developers.

“People won’t spend much on their buildings, but they will spend a crap ton of money on signs,” Hjelm said.

Haemmerle, who will step down from office in November, said the recent installation of a lighted “Welcome to Hailey” sign in the Airport West subdivision was his “proudest moment.”

“Maybe we should look at changes to our sign ordinance,” he said.

Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz said city code says little about the quality of materials used in sign construction.

“There is a huge variation, some cheap materials and others very high quality,” Horowitz said. “The last neon sign we saw was for Wise Guy Pizza. I think the Gnaw Bone doggy day spa sign was also very creative.”

City code states that exterior walls of buildings “shall incorporate the use of varying materials, textures and colors” and that “colors and materials shall be integrated appropriately into the architecture of the building and be harmonious within the project and with surrounding buildings.”

“I see this as pretty subjective criteria that would be judged on a case-by-case basis,” Horowitz said.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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