Crowd warns Old Town changes would doom investment in neighborhood | ParkRecord.com

Crowd warns Old Town changes would doom investment in neighborhood

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

A City Hall idea to further restrict the size of houses in Old Town was widely condemned on Wednesday night, drawing a rebuke from a large crowd worried that changes to the development rules could doom investment in the neighborhood.

The Park City Planning Commission listened to 23 people over the course of approximately one hour, 15 minutes. None of the speakers testified in favor of the idea. All but one of them appeared to be deeply opposed. The other one, Mary Wintzer, questioned whether Old Town is the right spot for large houses but also acknowledged the City Hall idea might be too punishing.

It had been expected that the crowd on Wednesday night would be overwhelmingly in opposition to the idea, but the extent of the unhappiness was not apparent until the Planning Commission began hearing the testimony.

A crowd packed the Park City Council chambers in what was a rare showing at a Planning Commission meeting in recent months. The panel was not prepared to craft a recommendation on a package of changes to City Hall’s Land Management Code, the document that governs development within the city. The Planning Commission indicated it wanted to return to the issue on Aug. 24.

It is unusual for a Planning Commission hearing to draw so many speakers. It is also uncommon for speakers to offer testimony that is nearly unanimous on one side of an issue. People who testified on Wednesday were from across the political spectrum.

Speakers challenged the idea on a series of points, including a claim that the value of houses in Old Town would plummet and there is an appropriate balance of house sizes now. The speakers included homeowners, attorneys and people who design houses in Old Town.

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"This is nothing more than a taking of our individual rights," said Jim Keesler, who lives in Prospector and owns a vacant lot on Woodside Avenue, adding that the restrictions would cause "pain and suffering."

Another speaker, Old Town lot owner John Pellouchoud, said the neighborhood should not be seen as a museum that reflects the olden days. People nowadays have different lives than then.

"I’m not a miner. I do have a car. I do have kids," he said.

Joe Tesch, an attorney who represents owners and investors in Old Town, meanwhile, said City Hall alters the development rules in the neighborhood too frequently, making investment less likely.

"You can’t turn the clock back . . . That’s sort of what you’re trying to do," Tesch said.

Craig Elliott, an architect who works in the neighborhood, told the Planning Commission clients are "afraid" of the discussions that are occurring at City Hall.

Old Town has long been the most contentious neighborhood in Park City, and house designs and sizes have for years been a divisive topic. Homeowners, investors and the design community generally want fewer restrictions in the neighborhood while the preservation community and Park City leaders have tended to support tighter rules.

The current round of talks comes amid a City Hall stoppage on the processing of several common zoning applications in Old Town. The stoppage, which runs through Dec. 15, was enacted to allow leaders time to consider the further restrictions.

Staffers want the Planning Commission to support a package of changes that would lead to scaled-back houses in Old Town. The key change would be restricting houses to a maximum of two stories, down from the three stories allowed now. There are concerns among property owners that the two-story restriction would make it difficult to build a garage in an Old Town house.

Another proposed change drawing attention is instituting a maximum building footprint on many parcels that would limit the size of a house to 2,734 square feet.

If the package of changes clears the Planning Commission in some fashion, the City Council would consider the recommendation from the lower panel. City Council hearings at that point would likely draw the same sort of opposition.

The City Council and Mayor Dana Williams on Thursday night held an unscheduled discussion about the lower panel’s meeting the night before. City Councilman Alex Butwinski, who attended the Planning Commission meeting, questioned whether the changes would be broader than the elected officials had envisioned. He indicated he did not want City Hall to continue with the discussions. A majority of the City Council, though, wanted them to press forward.

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