John HazlehurstA few days ago a fold-over postcard from the city’s Land Use Review Division arrived in our mailbox. I thought it was another tiresome screed from the city’s landscaping/behavioral police (e.g., your trees overhang the right of way, your dogs bark too much, you need to clean up the pile of slash that you created when you cut the overhanging limbs of the referenced trees), but it was something a little more ominous.

It was a “Notification of a Potential Development Project near your Property.” Had some secretive real estate magnates bought a nearby square block of rundown Victorians, only to rip them down and build a downtown-style Millennial fortress in our comfortable neighborhood?

Nope. The project was modest and unintrusive. Yet it was a good example of the complexity and expense of the development process, one that illuminates the rule-bound, highly bureaucratized process that all developers must follow.

Here’s the required “project blurb.”

“The project proposes to develop the site with nine parking spaces and install a [200-square-foot] ice kiosk as an accessory use. The site is zoned C-5 (intermediate business), is located at 2102 West Colorado Ave., and consists of 5,400 square feet.”

The spot became vacant 10 years ago, when its then-owners moved the residential cottage that had occupied the site since 1897 to another Westside location.

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An ice kiosk is just an automated ice dispenser, an ATM that gives you a bag of ice. It’s apparently a great little business, one that offers a useful service and demands minimal attention from its owners.

If you’ve never done a simple little deal like this, you might imagine that all you have to do is go down to the City Administration Building at 30 S. Nevada Ave., fill out some forms, submit your application, pay a reasonable fee, let the city do its thing and expect that things will move quickly along.

Dream on. The city will give you a lengthy “development plan, conditional use and use variance submittal checklist” that you’ll have to adhere to as you prepare a complete plan that will address “all City development standards, requirements and review criteria.”

The checklist includes well over 100 items. Of them, 56 had to be specifically addressed by the ice kiosk applicants. It’s no job for amateurs, so they hired long-established professional planners Thomas + Thomas to put it together. As far as I can tell, they did a great job, submitting the plan on Jan.15.

I don’t know what Thomas + Thomas charged for its services, but I do know what the city’s reasonable fee amounted to $5,553. The payment is divvied up between several city departments and enterprises, including Fire, Utilities, Land Use Review and Engineering Development Review.

The takeaway is simple. Even a 200-square-foot development on a tiny scrap of commercially zoned vacant land requires a team of sophisticated planners to scale the city’s regulatory ramparts. You can’t just stroll in the door and expect the staff to solve your problems — we’re not in Kansas anymore!

So does overregulation have anything to do with our present shortage of low-income housing? Maybe. Seventy years ago, the house we now live in was a rooming house, occupied by its owner and six tenants. Two lived in unventilated basement rooms, and four more lived in second and third floors. No fire escapes, no smoke detectors, no fire extinguishers — it was a dangerous trap. Yet it created a living for the widow who owned it, and a home for poor people who might otherwise have been homeless.

If one of us drops dead, the survivor will have a house with lots of room. Could he/she repeat history and rent out rooms, or build a couple of backyard rentals? Sure — just hire a contractor, bring the place up to code, file a development plan, notify the neighbors and somehow find the time and money to do the deal.

Or maybe we should just sell right now while we’re both still alive, let someone else do the work and move to Mérida, Mexico. Average high temperature in February: 88.7 degrees.

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