Growing pains

By K.L. Huntley
Reader Contributor

A long, long time ago I lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in a town originally built during the gold rush of 1849. Without the use of modern heavy equipment, the town — much like San Francisco — followed the curves, hills and gullies of the natural terrain. In short, it was not flat. It had charming old buildings and homes which had been maintained and many lovingly restored. 

The population when I moved there was less than my Los Angeles High School. I know — shocking news to some and hard for others to believe, I was born and raised in the metropolis of Los Angeles. At around seven years old I knew it was the wrong place for me, and by 21 I bought acreage out of the small town of Sonora, Calif.

The people of Sonora lived in a protected globe at the time, somewhat oblivious to the modern world. When it was decided they needed an electric signal in town they actually had to print instructions on how to use it in the local paper. 

There were great fun parts, too. Each year they had a parade. The sheriff closed off the highway skirting the town and sold the beer. As I said, it was a time of innocence that one can only reach back and hold in memory with a smile.

But there was a day that shocked the town. On the main street, one block from the newly installed signal, an unknown, out-of-town business purchased an empty lot with plans to build a motel. There were no objections. At the time we only had one inn and it seemed a great idea. It seemed that way — until construction began. 

The local people didn’t for a moment consider what the motel would look like. In a few months the monster was completed, and the residents of the foothills were in mouth-gaping shock. Not only was the structure made of stucco, it was painted a bright lavender purple color.

We all were horrified. Our brick-and-mortar, historical, charming town had a huge, eye-popping hideous monstrosity plopped right down in the middle of it.

When the stunned community regained its wits they gathered and formed building codes that included maintaining the historic designs of the rest of the area. New structures could be built. However, beyond the building codes were requirements which maintained historic preservation. They woke up to uncontrolled development and took the reins.

Why am I writing this? Because Sandpoint is paralleling the events in Tuolumne County, Calif., 50 years ago. You have a lovely town here; however you, too, have been discovered and your growth is, for the time being, out of control. So too are the designs of the new buildings and apartments. Kudos to Coldwater Creek when they renovated the Burnd Building in downtown Sandpoint (where Meadowbrook is currently located), MickDuff’s Brewing Co. when they moved into the old library and the modern building on Cedar Street where the UPS store is located. Some builders have kept the theme and ambiance of the town. 

Then we have the others. Whatever their motives, their exterior designs simply don’t fit. It is time — actually overdue and I hope not too late — for the city of Sandpoint to decide what they want to maintain as a theme and then implement it. We all know the current parking situation downtown was a major error, however one that can be remedied with a little rearranging and paint. We can’t do that with the ultra-modern structure at the corner of Cedar St. and Fifth Ave. I just hope they don’t paint it purple. 

Or maybe they should. Paint it purple! Wake up the sleepy little town. I can only hope that will have the same effect on historic preservation that it did in Sonora, Calif. The purple motel has been re-painted beige and period railings and shutters were installed. True, it is still stucco. However, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb anymore.

Currently I live out of town in a tiny community which only has a post office. My years of living on mountains and dirt roads prevent me from actually living in town. Still, I come to Sandpoint for everything: doctors, markets and shopping. I have family in Sandpoint. It is a lovely town. Try and keep it that way.

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