May 7, 2008
It has recently come to my attention that the Planning Department has issued a demolition permit for a historic home located at 156 Sandridge Avenue. This situation is disturbing to me on many levels.
First, there is photographic evidence that this house, as well as several others on the street, existed at least as early as in 1898. The library and the museum have various records to support this claim. As you might remember, last year’s Historic Home Tour was focused on Sandridge, and the house at 156 was featured prominently. If we are spending $8.9 million to renovate the museum in order to preserve inert artifacts from our community’s past, why is the Planning Department willing to approve the demolition of a piece of our living history?
I am also sure you that you are aware of the high profile of the houses along Sandridge Avenue. Much like the barn that was destroyed on the bottom of Prospect Avenue, these homes are visible from Main Street. Many tourists and residents park in the municipal parking lots and walk past the houses on the way to the stairs that lead to Swede Alley and Main Street. Additionally, I believe I heard City Manager Tom Bakaly say in an interview on KPCW in regard to the approximately $7.1 million being spent on the renovation of the Marsac Building, that it was time for the City to "walk the talk." If this high-price refurbishment of City Hall reflects the Council’s commitment to historic renovation, then why has a demolition permit been issued for 156 Sandridge, a house that is only one block away from the $7.1 million project?
A staff member of the Planning Department has already indicated he will recommend approval for a new house on the lot that is not only out of scale with the other houses in the neighborhood, it will be roughly twice as high as the two adjacent homes.
There is also the matter of the destruction of a 20-year-old plus xeriscape garden that contains rare alpine plants from Utah and all over the world. According to the architectural drawings, the garden will be destroyed so that the new home can encompass an additional parking space. This, despite the abundance of public parking three yards away from the proposed house.
I was under the impression that all projects proposed in the historic district need to go before the Historic Preservation Board for review. I also thought that the Planning Commission needed to review new projects before a demolition permit could be issued. However, the scheduled demolition date will circumvent the checks and balances that I always supposed were put in place to preserve the historical character of Old Town.
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Additionally, the City paid contractors to renovate a few shacks that were in danger of collapsing on Sandridge last summer. It does not make any sense to me to invest all that money to preserve a bunch of shacks, if the houses across the street are allowed to be destroyed.
I realize that the Planning Department is in a period of transition, and that all staff members are in the process of moving out of the Marsac Building. However, I do not think that any planned demolition of a historic building should be allowed to slip through the cracks.