The on-going battle between esthetics and enterprise will be renewed this week at public meetings in Alder and Ashford. At issue is the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park

“We need design standards because we don’t want to look like South Hill,” says Lou Whittaker, mountaineer, businessman and Ashford resident. The disparaging reference is to the shopping and residential area south of Puyallup.

“We want to be careful what we do to the approach of Rainier,” he says of the Nisqually entrance to the Park.

His worst nightmare and that of many other residents of the Upper Nisqually Valley consists of miles of golden arches and similar commercial icons or businesses and apartments dressed up in an Old West theme. Such concerns will be on the minds of Pierce County officials when they vote on the latest version of a land plan for the Upper Nisqually—and of those who gather at Alder and Ashford to discuss the final draft of an Upper Nisqually Valley community plan hammered out by the Gateway Community Advisory Board.

The Board believes its plan can manage growth while at the same time preserving the region’s rustic character and is hoping to generate public consensus on the road map for development before a final vote on the proposal.

If approved by the Board, the plan—which covers about 27,000 acres, most of it forested and half of it publicly owned—goes to the county Planning Commission and County Council for final approval.

Only about 1,200 people live in the Upper Nisqually Valley, the southernmost inhabited area of Pierce County that includes the town Elbe, as well as Ashford and Alder. Many are retirees. Some work in the park, others commute elsewhere.

There are few amenities in the area—the closest supermarkets are in Eatonville and Morton. The region once thrived on timber, both logging and milling. but the economy is now based mainly on tourism. During the summer, about 500,000 visitors pass through, mainly en route to the national park.

The community plan focuses mainly on architecture. While banning typical franchise designs, it would promotes the use of old-fashioned architectural styles to give the Upper Nisqually a look reminiscent of an early 20th century mountain community.

Log cabins would be in. The same with false fronts, porches and board-and-batten siding. Out would the internally lit signs and portable reader boards .

“This will be a real crown jewel for the county,” says advisory board member Rick Adams, whose family runs businesses in Elbe. “The whole goal is to make these communities destinations in their own right—you’ll see Ashford blossom beautifully,’

But the proposal also has critics.

“My concern is these new zoning regulations are going to make it harder for people to do business,” says board member Eric Simonson, who runs a mountaineering service.

The proposed standards would govern signs, commercial buildings and multifamily housing but would not apply to single-family homes.

New commercial activity would be confined to areas where stores and restaurants already exist: Ashford, Elbe, Alder and just outside the park’s Nisqually gate.

The valley’s pro- and anti-development factions were at odds long before the planning board was appointed in June 1996.

The controversy was sparked by the proposed $70 million Mount Rainier Resort at Park Junction. It’s still on the drawing board for a 400-acre site between Ashford and Elbe.

Developers filed for county permits before the land plan began, so the resort wouldn’t be affected by the proposed new rules.

“That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the midst of all this,” said Gene Casey, an Advisory Board member who opposes the resort. “It’s going to change the whole valley.”—The Associated Press contributed to this story

By Christopher Hord, Business Examiner staff