In a modern-day Park City development, history is disputed
A developer in the Main Street core has challenged a determination by City Hall staffers that a late 19th century building should not be moved from one spot on the property to another one, arguing that there is an opportunity for a better project if it is moved.
The site is situated at 820 Park Ave., a block from Main Street, and the developer wants to build 10 residential units and five commercial spaces in what has been dubbed the Rio Grande project. Rory Murphy, who is leading the efforts, submitted a 10-page letter appealing a decision made by Planning Director Tom Eddington and Chief Building Official Chad Root against a move.
The Rio Grande development would be built on a piece of land where the old building, put up in the late 1890s, sits. It once served as a passenger depot’s baggage station in the era when a railroad line extended into what is now Old Town. The old building, highly recognizable to people familiar with the Main Street area, is a little less than 1,600 square feet in size.
The building is situated toward the south central part of the parcel. Murphy said the development plan envisions moving the building 10 feet to the west and 30 feet to the north. If the building is moved, he said, it would be set in a better position within the project, where it would be visible from southbound Park Avenue. Should he not receive the approval, it would be largely hidden from that direction by the new building.
"It maintains the visual prominence of the historic building on the site, regardless of what I do with the rest of the building," Murphy said.
The two City Hall officials, though, issued a decision in October denying the request to move the building. Eddington and Root in the decision said "there are no unique conditions that warrant the proposed relocation and/or reorientation of the existing building."
The decision says a 1907 map was used with a modern-day mapping system to show that "it appears that the structure was not previously moved in the past to its current location." The decision also says the Park City Museum "found that there was no historical evidence that the building had been moved or relocated." The decision indicates the museum research involved studying maps dating to 1900, newspaper articles starting 1880s and photographs, among other sources.
In the appeal letter, Murphy disagrees with the assertion that the building has not been moved. The letter says "there is strong empirical, photographic, and anecdotal evidence that the Rio Grande building has been relocated at least once or twice between 1964 and 1972." Murphy’s letter says the relocations "likely occurred" as roadwork was undertaken to widen 9th Street and Park Avenue. It says the building’s foundation is not the original one as the letter makes the argument that it had been moved.
"And while it is impossible to definitively determine whether the Rio Grande building has been moved, the fact that there is compelling evidence of it having been previously relocated weighs heavily in favor of finding that unique conditions exist and allowing the proposed relocation, particularly given that there is no longer any historic context for the building," Murphy says in the letter.
The Historic Preservation Board, a City Hall panel that hears appeals on some development matters in Old Town, is scheduled to consider the Rio Grande case on Wednesday. Last summer, when paperwork was filed at City Hall for the project, Murphy outlined the possibility of moving the old building within the site. Doing so would also allow the developer to reconstruct what was a passenger station section of the building, he said at the time.
Murphy envisions the Rio Grande development as a bow to the site’s history. The disputed historic building would be restored and turned into a commercial property. He has said a café, perhaps, could be opened in the building. The new building on the property, anticipated to be three stories tall, would house the residential units on the upstairs floors and commercial space on the street level.
He has said he hopes to break ground in the spring. The project would continue what has been an extraordinary increase in private sector investment on or just off of Main Street since the depths of the recession. There is a series of construction projects underway along Main Street as developers anticipate the strong Park City economy will continue.
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The apparent success of the Main Street pedestrian days in Park City in 2020 could be influential in any upcoming talks about the future of the Park Silly Sunday Market.