Halt Old Town development, Parkite says
July 15, 2008
City Hall should issue a moratorium on development in Old Town to allow officials to rework the guidelines regulating house designs, a person suggested Monday night during a wide-ranging discussion about the neighborhood.
The call for a moratorium came from a man who lives in Old Town, and it was among numerous suggestions as the local government continues what has been a highly contentious effort to redo the guidelines, which date to 1983.
Brian Van Hecke, who lives on the 1100 block of Empire Avenue and is a national-level sales manager for audio-equipment maker Bose, told the crowded meeting a moratorium would provide City Hall the time it needs to craft new guidelines.
He made his comments toward the end of the boisterous meeting, which drew about 50 people, including Old Town residents, house designers and members of City Hall panels who hold some responsibilities in Old Town.
Van Hecke’s suggestion did not draw detailed responses, as many had already left the meeting and others appeared to be preparing to leave. His comment, though, is an indication that City Hall officials will continue to face a polarized neighborhood as they complete the guidelines.
In an interview after the three-hour meeting, the first of two this week, Van Hecke said development in recent years is wrecking the neighborhood. At the start of the decade, he said, there was reasonable work done in Old Town. But building since then disappoints him.
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"I feel we’re doing irreparable damage to the character of Old Town," Van Hecke said, describing what he sees as "oversized, maxed-out houses" in the neighborhood.
A moratorium would be a drastic measure that would further stress a tenuous relationship between City Hall and the people who design and build houses in Old Town. Such a move has previously been discussed, but the Park City Council has refused to issue a development stoppage.
City Hall is conducting a widely watched redo of the controversial design guidelines in Old Town, which has long been Park City’s most contentious neighborhood.
Officials, Old Town enthusiasts and some people who live in the historic district want to ensure new houses and renovations of older ones do not overwhelm the neighborhood. But house designers and some property owners worry that stricter guidelines will slash property values and result in stale designs.
The idea for a moratorium has emerged at least once before Monday’s meeting, in early 2007. At that time, the City Council said the shutdown was not an ideal choice. It is unclear if supporters of a moratorium like Van Hecke will press the City Council again.
The ‘Evil Empire’
Another person at the meeting, worried that new guidelines might restrict him from developing his Old Town property as he desires, warned City Hall to be fair.
Jim Steinmetz, who lives on the 1100 block of Norfolk Avenue and has lived in Old Town for 35 years, said others have built as they wished. People with undeveloped land should have rights as well, he said.
He labeled City Hall, the Historic Preservation Board, which is a City Hall panel with some influence in Old Town designs, and developers an ‘Evil Empire.’ In explaining the label, he said people like himself could be penalized under redone guidelines.
"Where’s the equality there? That’s why I call it the Evil Empire," he said in an interview.
Property values at stake
Some in the crowd warned rewritten guidelines could drop property values in Old Town, which has been one of Park City’s most sought-after neighborhoods.
The worry about property values has been broached numerous times during the talks, and the Monday comments were similar.
Don Bloxom, a house designer and critic of the current efforts, said new guidelines could "radically change" the value of Old Town properties. He said Park City will become more elite since, he said, building houses in Old Town will become more expensive.
Some people would be forced out of the neighborhood, he warned.
"I think we need to be very aware of the effects on the citizenry," Bloxom said.
More oversight wanted
Lynn Fey, who once served on the Historic District Commission, a government panel that was disbanded in 2003 in favor of a new board, said the dissolution of the older panel started a decline in Old Town.
She traced the current disagreements about designs to when the Historic District Commission was replaced with the current Historic Preservation Board. Once the older panel was gone, Fey said, there were fewer opportunities to provide opinions about house designs.
Fey said she wants the Historic Preservation Board to have a broader role in reviewing designs.
The City Council in 2003 replaced the Historic District Commission in a move meant to streamline the government.