Tuomisto’s goal is to sell mean machines but do it green.
The only problem with the industrial-looking structure is that it’s just not “country” enough for the Lindon City Council. Tuomisto says that during planning and construction, the council offered him leeway on certain city ordinances. But now that construction is complete, he says, he’s been hit up with the ordinances in question—which will require him to place a strip of lawn in front of his business and surround it with a white vinyl fence.
The requirements are like having a “great-looking suit, and now we’re throwing a pair of tennis shoes on,” Tuomisto says. But it’s not just the clashing aesthetics of the rural country fence and lawn around the xeriscaped dealership that bothers Tuomisto. It’s also the fact that his building’s status as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified will be marked down because of the conflicting ordinances. The less-than-perfect certification by the U.S. Green Building Council will cost him in government tax credits and exposure in the architecture world.
Tuomisto started the project in 2006, after selling the rights to his successful Bajio restaurant chain. The 60,000-square foot structure is a motorcycle palace made from salvaged steel and rubble from the once-hulking Geneva Steel plant and concrete from the deserted truck stop that stood on the lot that Tuomisto purchased.
After years of planning and construction and after investing $15 million, Tuomisto wants people to see the future of construction. “Everybody leaves a footprint on Mother Earth,” Tuomisto says. “This dealership’s goal was to show how you can lighten that footstep.”
Ever excited to talk about the construction of the dealership, Tuomisto is reluctant to speak much about his current differences with Lindon. He does say the city has changed its message on the ordinances since his shop opened this past summer. “Their fallback is to say, ‘We did represent that but that’s not what the ordinance says,’” Tuomisto says.
Lindon’s motto, “A Little Bit of Country” applies well to its city planning, where the lawn and fence are uniform throughout the city’s commercial zones, says Mayor Jim Dain.
“Any city that looks good has a streetscape that’s appealing and that repeats throughout town,” says Dain, adding that while the “streetscape” is uniform, Lindon gives business owners nearly free rein with their building designs. “We have very broad guidelines for what [business owners] do with their buildings.”
Dain has been a supporter of Tuomisto’s project. “As an architect and a mayor, I can say that Dave has done an incredible job,” Dain says. “We don’t have a real battle going with Dave. There are just some ordinances in our commercial zone that we’ve asked him to comply with, that apply to any commercial zone.”
While Tuomisto’s business is in a commercial zone, he still shakes his head at needing the fence and lawn for a nonpedestrian road. “It’s an industrial area,” Tuomisto says. “It’s not like anyone’s taking a baby stroller past to take their kid to go play in the Geneva Steel slag pile.”
Dain recognizes this situation is different.
“Dave’s project is a unique building in a unique location in our city. Because of that we are willing to look at a possible ordinance change or an overlay district,” he says.
Carl Carter, a friend and associate of Tuomisto’s and Lindon resident, has been following the struggle at the City Council meetings and thinks part of the problem has been a changing administration. “At first, he got the green light for everything,” Carter says. But that started to change the farther he went with the project. “In Lindon City’s defense, they did give him a lot of latitude at first,” Carter says.
The city did give Tuomisto more flexibility with the size of his billboard off Interstate 15, let him start operations before his permanent occupancy permit had been approved and even changed city ordinance to allow more xeriscaping in commercial zones.
The xeriscaping leeway was worked out along with the Utah Rivers Council which has been encouraging more water-wise landscaping ordinances throughout the state.
“The majority of city ordinances don’t address xeriscaping,” says Mark Danenhauer of the Rivers Council. “It’s really a major fault. These landscaping ordinances are outdated.” The council, through RipYourStrip.com, have been promoting removal of grass strips like the one Tuomisto has been forced to put in at his business.
“We’ve found people who rip out 300 feet of grass save on average 5,000 gallons of water annually,” Danenhauer says.
Danenhauer hopes that more cities will give homeowners and businesses the option to xeriscape. “Utahns are demonstrating that they want to have water-wise landscaping,” Danenhauer says. “And it’s important that city ordinances allow them to do that.”
Tuomisto however, has decided to stop fighting the city.
“It’s not worth my time. I’ve been to too many city council meetings,” Tuomisto says. “I’d rather play with my kids.”
The struggle to make Tuomisto’s xeriscaped masterpiece a bit more country is one he doesn’t have any fight left in him for. “When I bought this property, I was picking up syringes and milk jugs full of urine that truckers tossed out their windows from the freeway,” Tuomisto says. “We’ve done a lot for Lindon, and we’d hope they’d give a little back.”