Teardown of Old Town building leaves displeasure in wake | ParkRecord.com

Teardown of Old Town building leaves displeasure in wake

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

An Old Town activist on Thursday questioned City Hall’s decision to allow a neighborhood building to be demolished, arguing that the structure was historically significant.

John Stafsholt, who lives on the 600 block of Woodside Avenue, close to the site of Monday’s demolition, offered a series of criticisms of the City Hall process that led to the razing of the building, which had stood at 657 Park Ave., next to High West Distillery.

Speaking to Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council, he claimed officials did not require the paperwork that others must obtain before an old building is torn down and said the structure that the property owners want to put up in its place will be much different.

Stafsholt, who unsuccessfully campaigned for a City Council spot in 2009 on a platform that included preservation issues in Old Town, argued the owners want to build a larger structure at the site than the old building that was there — effectively what would have been an addition to the building that was razed. He said a new building will be reoriented on the parcel as well.

Stafsholt told the elected officials the 657 Park Ave. demolition was the second old building in the neighborhood to come down in two years. He noted the renovation of the High West buildings — themselves historic structures — turned out well, but the owner of 657 Park Ave. decided on a different process.

Stafsholt, meanwhile, said not enough people were notified the building was scheduled to be torn down. He said only a handful of people with properties adjacent to 657 Park Ave. were informed before the wrecking crew started.

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Stafsholt closely watches Old Town issues, and the earlier teardown, close to his house, has been a sticking point. He said what happened this week was "really sad." Stafsholt was at City Hall prior to his appearance in front of the elected officials poring through the files for 657 Park Ave.

The elected officials appeared concerned with the teardown as well, with City Councilwoman Cindy Matsumoto saying people seemed to be "blindsided" with the demolition. She said preservation projects should not involve a demolition.

Liza Simpson, another City Councilor, said others should be notified when an old building is slated for demolition. She mentioned the Historic Preservation Board, which is a City Hall panel with some oversight in Old Town, and the preservation community should be made aware beforehand.

Williams, meanwhile, said he was not notified of the demolition until reading a media report. He said the Park City Historical Society, an influential group that promotes preservation, is upset with what occurred. The mayor also questioned whether City Hall put out enough information prior to the demolition.

Francisco Astorga, the City Hall planner assigned to the project, sent an e-mail Wednesday to the elected officials, the Park City Planning Commission and top municipal staffers indicating the Planning Department "received a lot of phone calls" about the teardown.

The building went up in the mid-1880s and survived the terrible fire in 1898 that left much of Park City of that era in ruins. In recent years there had been a series of alterations from its historic state, including putting on different types of siding and adding material that was not part of the original building.

City Hall staffers determined the building had lost much of its historic authenticity and found there was not enough historic material left to be salvaged and used in a redone building.

A consultant hired by City Hall to catalog old buildings, though, issued a report in late 2008 that determined the "structure retains its essential form" when compared to early photographs of a building at the address. The report indicated there had not been additions, and alterations had been minor. It said, however, different windows on the building had been installed sometime prior to 1995. The different windows "detract from this historic character substantially," the report said.

The owner of the property, Alan Agle, wants to put up a new building at the site with a commercial enterprise on the ground floor and possibly residential space elsewhere in the building. The Planning Department said this week the blueprints for the new building call for approximately 4,000 square feet. The building that was demolished measured approximately 1,300 square feet, and business like a dental office and a massage spa had operated inside over the years. It had been vacant since 2006.

Agle said early in the week he was "heartbroken" that the building could not be incorporated into a new development at the site.