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Petition: protect Old Town

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

John Stafsholt has watched Park City grow from Woodside Avenue, the classic Old Town street where he has lived since 1986.

Over the past 22 years, on other portions of Woodside Avenue and surrounding streets, builders have put up new houses or added onto historic ones. They have also torn down some older houses to make room for ones that are newer and bigger.

Stafsholt, who has lived at 633 Woodside Ave., on the upper stretches of the street, for 14 years is frustrated with the builders, saying they are putting up houses that do not fit well onto the Old Town streetscape.

"Mass is too large. Scale is too large. Character — they don’t look like the older buildings," says Stafsholt, who is leading a neighborhood campaign to pressure City Hall to more tightly regulate development in Old Town, especially when projects involve historic properties.

Stafsholt just recently appeared as a figure in what has become a polarizing, wide-ranging and well-publicized dispute involving City Hall, homeowners, house designers and neighbors. Much of the debate is about the guidelines that regulate house designs in Old Town, and house sizes in the neighborhood have spurred widespread discussions.

He is chiefly concerned with a house a developer wants to build next door to him, but Stafsholt, as he speaks about a petition he circulated, touches on issues important to many others who live in Old Town but who have not closely followed the dispute on his block.

He is frustrated that City Hall allows owners to tear down some buildings in Old Town, depending on whether they were placed on a list of structures that the local government has deemed historically significant. The house next door to him, 637 Woodside Ave., is not included on the list, making it easier for the owner to tear it down.

Situations similar to Stafsholt’s have unfolded numerous times in the last decade or so, as Old Town became one of Park City’s hot real estate markets, with buyers drawn to the neighborhood’s Victorian architecture, closeness to Main Street and access to the slopes at Park City Mountain Resort.

In his petition, Stafsholt discusses City Hall’s list of historic houses and says he wants it expanded. Doing so would further protect houses that would be added to the list. He also wanted the local government to stop the demolition of 637 Woodside Ave. Stafsholt said he gathered 185 signatures over four days around Independence Day. He submitted them to the Planning Department, the Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Board, a City Hall panel that holds some influence in Old Town.

"We would like to stop these demolitions immediately before more historic homes are lost," the petition says, also maintaining that "many historic buildings in Old Town have intrinsic historic value" but are not on the list.

Most of the signatures are from people who live in Old Town, with Woodside Avenue, Park Avenue and Norfolk Avenue, three streets with high concentrations of historic houses, represented well, according to Stafsholt.

But the architect who designed the house that would replace the older one at 637 Woodside Ave. contends that he and the owner properly obtained the necessary approvals to tear down the old house. Jonathan DeGray, the architect, says the old house did not have a foundation and it had been "pretty heavily modified" over the decades.

"If it’s not in the book, you can take it down . . . It’s that simple," DeGray says, talking about City Hall’s list of historic properties.

The new house would cover 7,000 square feet spread through four stories, but City Hall has not approved the designs. The decision rests with the Planning director, and with Thomas Eddington Jr. newly installed in the position, it is unclear when he will make a determination. His ruling could then be appealed to the Historic Preservation Board and then to the city’s Board of Adjustment.

DeGray says he designed the house so about half of it would be built into a hillside, long a trend in Old Town architecture that proponents say results in new houses that better fit with the surrounding older ones.

At City Hall, Park City Councilman Joe Kernan acknowledges developers will continue to work in Old Town, but he says he would like houses that predate Park City’s ski industry but are not on the list protected. He is pleased Stafsholt is pressing officials.

"Things like that petition made it more likely the Council will, in the near term, get a list of contributing structures and protect them," Kernan says.


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