Tom Clyde: BoPa Obit
We all pause this week to mourn the passing of the Form Based Zoning Code proposal for the Bonanza Park area. It was known to its friends as BoPa. BoPa came into this world five years ago as the solution to the problem we didn’t know we had: what to do with the land area between Deer Valley Drive and Kearns, and Park Avenue and Bonanza Drive.
At its core, BoPa was filled with good intentions. Anybody looking at the Bonanza Park area would recognize that it is under-utilized land. There are some great opportunities there as the area redevelops. It used to be at the fringe of town, literally on the other side of the tracks. It was a suitable place for mini-storage units, auto repair shops, and what was, for its time, big-box retail. But it’s now smack dab in the center of things. There are several large parcels of land, and the opportunity to do something significant is something that shouldn’t be lost. So BoPa fearlessly proposed some very high-density residential stacked on top of commercial. BoPa was the last chance for relatively affordable housing in town, as long as the commercial uses and expensive penthouses subsidized it.
The commercial BoPa envisioned isn’t the big spaces occupied by the grocery store some of us still call Alpha Beta, or Rite-Aid. The Burger King drive-thru wouldn’t fit in the new plan. BoPa envisioned small footprints for tall buildings, with lots of mom-and-pop pizzerias and artisanal bakeries fronting on lots of new streets. And that is where things began to fall apart. A successful vision needs some contact with reality.
The BoPa street system, and I use that term loosely, is a result of trying to work around a railroad spur that hasn’t been there for a generation. There used to be a railroad track parallel to Ironhorse Drive. Dump trucks hauled ore from the mines to a platform there and transferred it into the rail cars. Union Pacific didn’t want anybody crossing the track, except at Bonanza. So there are no north-south streets in the area. BoPa proposed cutting it up with a traditional street grid that, at least looking at the maps, seems to have consumed a quarter or more of the land in the area for streets. The owners of the property were not sure they needed so many cross streets on their property.
As is so often the case in Park City, the most baroque solution imaginable was proposed for a relatively simple problem. The industrial uses need to be phased out, and higher residential density on mixed-use projects allowed. It will happen on its own.
BoPa imagined a neighborhood as magical as Brigadoon and as trendy as Brooklyn, where everybody could live, work, and play within that quarter-mile radius. The City Planning staff produced a slick brochure, really a marketing piece, on the concept. The graphics were outstanding, but in the end, no amount of graphic design could justify the complexity of the density bonuses, housing subsidies, and disruption of businesses and residential condominiums whose owners have no intention of going anywhere. The leap between a reality that includes the City storing road salt and parking buses there, and the urban hipster neighborhood, was just too great. Good graphics and appealing renderings are no match for economics.
And so BoPa is dead. It will be laid to rest in an ironic cardigan with a white straw fedora. The land will be redeveloped over time because it is too valuable to leave as it is now.
The City Planning Department is kind of a mess at the moment, with key positions vacant and a proposed re-structuring not coming together because they can’t seem to hire a new director. In addition to having spent five years on the BoPa snipe hunt, there was the inexplicable approval of the upper Main Street condo project that has a garage door as the street level façade. The code seems to require retail or restaurant space on the street level, but whatever. I think it technically prohibits offices or residential use on the street level. Nobody ever imagined somebody would be dumb enough to waste the street level exposure on a garage door.
Not all is lost. In other news, the Daly-West headframe was successfully rescued, and was not swallowed into the mine shaft. Crews are busy plugging the old mine shaft and installing a ventilation duct to get air into the mine tunnel below. No word yet on when or where the Daly-West headframe will be re-erected, but it came out of the hole pretty much in one piece. They ought to be able to set it upright either in the original location or maybe on some more solid ground nearby. I hope it will be back in place soon.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.