Bulldozers blocked: old houses win reprieve
Park City officials, giving themselves time to figure out how to best preserve historic houses in Old Town, recently put in place a ban on the most controversial demolitions in the neighborhood, a move pushed for by activists and one that shows the elected officials were leery of losing additional houses.
The Park City Council, on a 4-1 vote with Jim Hier dissenting, enacted what is known as a temporary zoning regulation. Regulations of that sort are rarely used bureaucratic maneuvers meant to make sure conditions do not worsen as a government considers long-term options.
The temporary regulation, which lasts six months, prohibits people from tearing down buildings that were put up before 1962. The year is significant as it came at the beginning of Park City’s ski era. Many people do not consider buildings put up after then as being historic. The regulation affects scores of addresses in Old Town, but it is unclear how many owners had hoped to tear down their buildings in the next six months. Demolitions are uncommon in the neighborhood.
Architecture in Park City changed significantly in the early skiing years, moving from the Victorian style to a contemporary look embraced by mountain resorts as they grew. City Hall and Old Town enthusiasts have long tried to retain the neighborhood’s Victorian look, and they have bid to keep the older houses standing.
The City Council move comes amid wide-ranging and long-running talks about Old Town, with the discussions most importantly involving the guidelines that regulate house designs in the neighborhood.
But the talks, more recently, have included debate about owners who wish to tear down their historic houses and rebuild on the land. Some owners see that as a more attractive option than restoring a historic house. City Hall regulates which houses can be torn down, depending on their historical significance, but the local government’s method has been criticized.
Demolition permits granted before the City Council vote are valid, and the ban does not apply to historic buildings that developers plan to tear down but then use pieces of, such as the outside walls, in new buildings that are put up. That process is known as ‘panelization,’ and it is a popular building method in Old Town.
A hearing before the vote drew scattered interest, with some of the testimony pointing out a Woodside Avenue house that, speakers said, was torn down hours before the meeting in an effort to avoid the six-month ban. A member of the demolition crew, however, disputed the charge, telling the elected officials the timing was not based on the meeting.
The idea of some type of demolition ban had been discussed for weeks before the City Council action. An Old Town resident in July had suggested in a meeting that a moratorium on development in Old Town should be enacted. The demolition ban is not as dramatic a move as was requested at that time, though.
John Stafsholt, who lives at 633 Woodside Ave. and gathered signatures in favor of a ban on demolitions, said in an interview after the City Council vote he is pleased with the six-month stoppage the elected officials agreed to.
"It’s a huge win because it’s the old houses that make Old Town," Stafsholt said, adding that he is "very hopeful" the local government will make proper decisions in the next six months.
Stafsholt said he wants City Hall to expand the list of historic houses that require greater scrutiny before they can be torn down. He acknowledged that the six-month ban comes after several high-profile demolitions.
"It’s too late for 637 Woodside. It’s too late for Sandridge," he said.
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