The Park Record editorial, July 16-19, 2011 |

The Park Record editorial, July 16-19, 2011

Old Town code debate is critical to Park City's future

A proposal to tighten building restrictions in Park City’s historic district came under heavy fire Wednesday in what is likely to be the first salvo in a long, emotional debate. But, no matter how painful, defining a fair yet firm set of rules for Old Town is vital to preserving both the historic character and the future economic vitality of the neighborhood. The rules must be tough enough to protect the overall architectural flavor or Old Town while also offering property owners the flexibility to build marketable homes.

At issue is a tentative set of regulations that would reduce new residential construction from three to two stories and would also limit the total square footage to 2,734 square feet. Many property owners in the district say those restrictions are punitive and unrealistic in today’s real estate market.

The Planning Commission must weigh Old Town property owners’ financial concerns against the aesthetic value of mining era architecture to the town as a whole. That, of course, is both the burden and benefit of owning property in the historic district.

Last November, when a modest historic home at 657 Park Avenue was demolished to make way for a larger building, there was widespread public outcry about the loss of a local treasure. That instigated a closer inspection of the Land Management Code regulations in Old Town and highlighted a number of loopholes that, some say, allow property owners to skirt existing but inconsistent restrictions. Those voices, though, were silent on Wednesday.

Naturally, individual Old Town property owners want to maximize the potential of their investments, which, to some, means being able to build big. But, as is true in every neighborhood, the value of each parcel is dependent on the integrity of surrounding construction. In Old Town, which can boast inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, that is especially true.

The Planning Commission has now heard from those with specific financial interests in the issue but members have not necessarily heard from citizens at large who also have a collective interest in preserving the scale of homes in the city’s historic core.

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Finding a balance between the two will require some difficult soul searching, but we are certain that setting clear restrictions on new construction in Old Town will benefit both.