Old Town dispute: ‘Is Park City still part of the United States of America?’ | ParkRecord.com

Old Town dispute: ‘Is Park City still part of the United States of America?’

by Jay Hamburger The Park Record

midyear in 2011, it was apparent that City Hall was mulling whether to make a dramatic strike to limit the sizes of houses in Old Town.

There had been occasional complaints for years that the newer houses, much larger than the ones that were put up a century or longer ago, were overwhelming the historic neighborhood.

Park City leaders had publicized their intentions to consider new zoning rules that would further restrict the house sizes. One idea lopped a story off the three that are allowed. Old Town landowners and people who develop in the neighborhood revolted, pouncing on the idea for further restrictions during hearings.

Leaders, under pressure, rescinded a stoppage that halted the processing of several common types of development applications in Old Town and backed away from the tighter restrictions that were under consideration.

But the opposition was not limited to the public meetings, correspondences sent to City Hall show. The municipal government at one point released a cache of letters and e-mails related to the idea to tighten the zoning rules. It is rare for such a significant City Hall move to receive near unanimous opposition, and the dispute was one of the most noteworthy in Old Town in years.

The correspondences illustrate the depth of the displeasure with the idea. Some were written by property owners while others were penned by the real estate community. Nearly all of them were in opposition.

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Many of the people who wrote worried about falling property values if the restrictions were put in place. In many cases, the letters reflected the testimony of others who spoke to the Park City Planning Commission and the Park City Council.

"We based our purchase on what our real estate agent and architect advised us would be in compliance. The new proposals would significantly restrict what we or any other owner could do, clearly reducing the current value of the property," wrote Nancy Bronstein Sponholz, who owns several Old Town homes with her husband.

The Sponholz letter, meanwhile, said the writer was "horrified" with the idea, explaining that the value of larger houses in Old Town, dubbed "McMansions" in the letter, would soar since other people would not be allowed to build that large.

A sampling of some of the other correspondences to City Hall addressing the topic include:

  • Charles Mooty, a homeowner on Woodside Avenue who also owns two vacant Park Avenue lots, addressed the property values in the neighborhood among other topics.

    "We have just heard of the proposed changes being considered by the city and it will have a huge negative impact to our investment. It simply is not fair to once again constrain our development," Mooty said in the correspondence.

    The letter said he and his wife would "take a huge personal investment loss" if the tighter restrictions were enacted.

    "In this difficult economic period, you cannot wipe out further equity or valuation for these vacant lots from property owners. It simply is not fair or right . . . ," Mooty wrote.

  • Robert McCallister, who operates an inn on Woodside Avenue with his wife, argued that the tighter restrictions would have caused developers to not build houses with garages. That, he said, is undesirable since many people park on streets already in Old Town.

    McCallister also said in the letter property values in Old Town have declined since the recession. He questioned the municipal government’s understanding of the economic situation.

    "The planning department is out to lunch. Most city employees and some council members do not believe we are in a recession. They have protected employment with very good benefits including getting raises and bonuses. This is unheard of in the private sector," he wrote.

  • Joy Patin, who did not identify a street where she lives or owns property, called the tighter restrictions "preposterous" and said they would hurt property owners in Old Town and elsewhere in Park City.

    "Is Park City still part of the United States of America? Historic guidelines are one thing, but such tight restrictions on privately owned property cannot continue," Patin wrote.

    The lone correspondence that was released that appeared to be in favor of tighter restriction was written by longtime Parkite Gary Kimball. He urged leaders not to "buy into their greed" as he spoke about developers.

    "I realize you are going to get a ton of mail/e-mail from the well-oiled developers machine! The majority of Old Town residents do not want the character of Old Town changed," Kimball wrote. "Old Town is Park City’s 4th resort! Please don’t stand by and let it be destroyed by the wanton greed of those who chase the buck!!"