From past to present

John Roark / Mark Heckenbach poses for a photo in front of his home along 11th Street on Jan. 29. John Roark /

A parking strip and a cracked sidewalk are seen along 10th Street on Jan. 29. John Roark /

A pedestrian walks along 11th Street on Jan. 29. Opponents of the zoning changes are concerned about increased traffic endangering children in neighborhoods. John Roark /

A child’s rocking horse is seen in a yard along June Avenue on Jan. 29. Opponents of the proposed zoning changes are concerned about the possible increase of traffic endangering kids in neighborhoods. John Roark /

An American flag is seen in the window of a home along 11th Street on Jan. 29. John Roark /

Yards along 9th Street are seen on Monday, January 29, 2018. John Roark /

Cars line the curbs of the numbered streets in Idaho Falls because there are more cars than the area’s driveways can contain. Renters and long-term residents intermix in the neighborhood, creating a blend that crept upward with time.

The last instance where this type of residential blend occurred was in the 1960s, and life in the middle of the last century was much different.

Instead of the vrooming streets and bustling automotive commutes, most people walked around a central hub. Businesses, renters and homeowners all thrived in the same area — the modern subdivision had yet to be developed.

It’s this quaint lifestyle that the numbered street neighborhoods are still built around, even though it’s now immersed in a reality much different than its conception. But it’s because of this layout that Idaho Falls’ Planning Division saw an opportunity to unite the old and new with the recent creation of the Traditional Neighborhood Zone.

The new zone would allow businesses, homeowners and renters to coalesce once again in the neighborhoods that were first designed for that lifestyle to begin with.

“In the ’60s, when we wrote the current zoning ordinance, we slapped the same zone on those old neighborhoods and those that are being built today,” Community Development Services Director Brad Cramer said. “But they’re not the same, they were never intended to be the same.”

Under the current zoning ordinance, the sprawling modern subdivisions and neighborhoods are grouped under the same R1 zone of the tightly knit community planning of the 1960s.

“See that,” Cramer said, pointing to a yellow-splattered zoning map of the city. “All that yellow, that’s R1.”

The current city zoning relies heavily on the R1 single-family dwelling residential zone, even though that designation isn’t best suited for every neighborhood it encompasses.

The way the zone is written now, most of the houses, rentals and businesses in the area are considered a nonconforming use. Meaning the use was OK during the time it was built, but not under current zoning laws.

Most of the numbered street neighborhoods were grandfathered into the R1 zone, putting its owners in a bind if they ever wanted to remodel or do anything to their property.

If they wanted to revamp their property, then they would have to make their older home match the modern R1 standards, something that most homes in those streets can’t accommodate easily. The Traditional Neighborhood Zone would alleviate this by adjusting the standards to the reality of the homes already there.

The traditional zone would make business, rentals and homes conforming again under the code, and could potentially open the neighborhood to more rentals, multi-unit homes and business development.

Numbered-street resident Mark Heckenbach said opening the neighborhood to more renters would increase the population density, which could make it more dangerous for children with increased traffic. He said he sees kids walk to school and play in the streets of the neighborhood. He said because the neighborhood was built in the middle of the last century, not every potential driver had a car. So the way the streets are designed wouldn’t accommodate today’s car-loving culture.

In 1969, 20 percent of U.S. households didn’t have a car and just 31 percent had two or more vehicles. Today, 57 percent have two or more cars, with 20 percent having at least three.

Lynn Rockhold, also a numbered-street resident, said the traditional zone might look odd in the neighborhood because of the different setback standards for houses. She said she cares about her neighborhood and wants to make sure it stays looking nice and safe for playing children.

Cramer said there wouldn’t be any drastic changes taking place to the neighborhoods with the new zone that isn’t already happening. There are even statutes written in the code to protect the current character of the neighborhood.

The worries about increased traffic are a little bit overblown, Cramer said: “It’s not like L.A. rush hours; you might see one or two more cars an hour.”

But due to large outcry from residents in the designated traditional zone, where Rockhold and Heckenbach live, it got dropped and returned to R-1. Most of the numbered streets are still designated under the traditional neighborhood zones, except for the area east of Holmes Street.

Councilwoman Shelly Smede, liaison for community planning, said the city doesn’t want to do anything that its residents don’t like or would be unhappy with. Though, it’s also important to make sure the city is moving into the future.

Newer neighborhoods and developments in cities across the country are going back to their turn-of-the-century roots and opting for this community design again. Cramer said it’s also important to be responsive to the national traditional zone housing trends that are making their way to Idaho Falls.

Otherwise, the lifestyle that the city was zoned under in the 1960s is the only one it’s going to be suited for.

Reporter Isabella Alves can be reached at 208-542-6711.

Reporter Isabella Alves can be reached at 208-542-6711.