City Hall panel ‘rendered impotent’ in teardown of Old Town building | ParkRecord.com

City Hall panel ‘rendered impotent’ in teardown of Old Town building

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

The chairman of the City Hall panel that holds some authority in Old Town development issues said in an interview officials made it too easy for the owner of an old Park Avenue building to demolish the structure, an indication that people remain dismayed with the episode two weeks afterward.

Roger Durst, who is the chairman of the Historic Preservation Board, said the panel did not have advance knowledge of the impending teardown. He said "there was no indication" that it would be razed.

The teardown, conducted Nov. 8 at 657 Park Ave., next to High West Distillery, surprised some Park City officials as well as the city’s influential preservation community. There was not publicity beforehand, though, and some people have said they were not informed of the demolition until they saw media coverage.

"Do I think there could have been a different outcome? Yes. The building could have been restored," Durst said, acknowledging that he was not yet privy to all the information about the teardown.

Durst, an architect, wonders whether the Historic Preservation Board holds enough influence in Old Town issues.

The Historic Preservation Board typically is asked to hear appeals from property owners if they disagree with decisions made by City Hall staffers. The appeals normally involve house designs rather than determinations about demolitions, which are sometimes controversial.

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The panel was organized in the post-2002 Winter Olympic era and replaced another board that was seen as having more powers than the Historic Preservation Board. The Park City Council at that time disbanded what had been known as the Historic District Commission and replaced it with the body that is now in place.

"The fact is, we were out of the loop," Durst said about the decisions regarding the building at 657 Park Ave., adding, "If we are not a party to this, within a historic district, what’s the purpose? I don’t get it."

The City Hall demolition process does not involve the Historic Preservation Board. Durst said 657 Park Ave. was not included on a recent list of Old Town projects that staffers provided the Historic Preservation Board.

"I think we have been emasculated and rendered impotent" in regards to development in Old Town, Durst said.

Park City leaders have long seen themselves as supporting preservation efforts in the city, offering financial incentives to people who fix up historic properties and demanding that many old buildings either remain standing or be incorporated into new developments in another fashion. The supporters say Park City’s historic buildings make the community unique and provide a competitive advantage over some other mountain resorts.

An Old Town activist recently addressed the elected officials, questioning whether proper procedures were followed when the building was torn down. John Stafsholt maintained paperwork was not in order prior to the demolition.

Another person with longstanding interest in Old Town, Lynn Fey, also spoke to the elected officials afterward, contending that the Historic Preservation Board does not hold oversight in demolition cases. Fey did not place blame on anyone.

The owner of the old building, Alan Agle, has said there had been many changes to the structure over the years. It was built in the mid-1880s and survived an 1898 fire that leveled much of Park City of that era.

Agle wants to put up a new building at the site, with blueprints calling for one approximately three times the size of the one that was there. He has said he is upset the old building could not be incorporated somehow into the new one.

The elected officials are tentatively scheduled to discuss the demolition at a meeting on Dec. 16. Staffers will likely issue a more detailed report about the teardown of 657 Park Ave. prior to the meeting in December. Durst, meanwhile, expects the Historic Preservation Board will discuss the matter at a meeting scheduled Dec. 1.

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