The Park City Planning Commission on Wednesday night signaled it did not want City Hall's development rules loosened to enable some property owners to break height restrictions in Old Town, a line of thinking that jeopardizes the Kimball Art Center's ambitious expansion ideas.

The panel did not cast a vote, but the comments by Planning Commission members pointed toward an eventual recommendation barring property owners within the historic zones of Old Town from putting up taller buildings than are allowed by the rules.

The Planning Commission is considering a change to the Land Management Code, a document that details the development rules. It appears the members want a prohibition on exceptions to the height restrictions within projects known as master planned developments. Those sorts of projects are typically given more flexibility.

The discussions are critical to the Kimball Art Center's expansion idea. The expansion blueprints could call for an addition reaching to 80 feet in height. The rules now, though, restrict the height of buildings at the site to 32 feet. A project like the one the Kimball Art Center envisions would be rejected based on the restriction, meaning the organization would need to alter the proposal to fit the rules or seek a variance to those restrictions from a separate City Hall panel.

The Planning Commission delayed a vote until at least Jan. 9. The panel will eventually make a recommendation to the Park City Council. The elected officials are not bound by the recommendation.

The Kimball Art Center has not filed an application for the expansion, and its design ideas have not been finalized. A renowned architectural firm with offices in Copenhagen, Denmark, and New York City created the concept, a tower made of railroad trestles at the Main Street-Heber Avenue intersection. It would add approximately 30,000 square feet to the Kimball Art Center.

In a discussion on Wednesday, Charlie Wintzer, a Planning Commissioner, said it is difficult for him to support exceptions to the height restrictions, predicting that developers will seek them frequently. Brooke Hontz, another member of the panel, also noted that a change would have effects beyond the Kimball Art Center.

The Planning Commission discussion came shortly after testimony from two top-ranking Kimball Art Center officials. Executive Director Robin Marrouche and Matt Mullin, the chairman of the board of directors, each said the Kimball Art Center might be forced to leave Main Street if the expansion is not approved. The organization wants more space for exhibits and classes.

"Don't let the expansion of the arts become the movement of the arts," Mullin said, claiming that the opposition side is the only one that has been heard.

Marrouche told the Planning Commission a compromise is possible, but a restriction of 32 feet would not enable the Kimball Art Center to meet its goals with an expansion. She said the organization is listening to the critics.

Planning Commissioner Mick Savage later countered that the idea that the Kimball Art Center could leave the location was not a make-or-break scenario for Park City.

A hearing on Wednesday night drew limited public comment, including statements from members of an opposition group.

Sanford Melville, who identified himself as belonging to a group called Preserve Historic Main Street, criticized the idea of granting exceptions to the height restrictions at the location, saying the core of Old Town is "the heart and soul of our town."

Chris Schaefer, another opponent, said the Kimball Art Center could perhaps consider a modest expansion or lease space elsewhere on Main Street if it needs more square footage.

In an interview afterward, Marrouche said the Kimball Art Center has ideas to boost tourism, expand the economy and enrich Park City's cultural offerings. She said the City Council should consider the "greater overall contribution" of the expansion once it begins its deliberations.

"The tenor of the conversation was troubling and disappointing," she said about the Planning Commission meeting.