Holladay will lose one of its oldest homes. But its demise could help save other historic sites.
Holiday • A historic home faces certain death nearly 150 years after it was built, but impending demolition could breathe new life into efforts to preserve Holladay’s significant structures in the future.
Barring a sudden change of heart from Sandy’s Sequoia Development, the home at 4880 S. Highland Circle will soon be razed to make way for 11 townhouses, and there’s nothing opponents can do about it because the land is privately owned and Holladay has no preservation orders on the books.
The house, which belonged to one of the town’s founding families, was built in the second half of the 19th century, according to Kim Duffy, a member of the Holladay Historical Commission.
“It’s so old, it’s right there on a street in Holladay,” she said, “and someone’s about to come in and tear it down.”
Historian Rachel Quist wrote in a social media post that the house was built circa 1879 for Alwilda Nancy Andrus Brinton and her husband Franklin Dilworth Brinton, both children from extended polygamous families who were among the first to settle in Holladay.
The house was built with adobe and finished with brick. Square nails, probably made in the Brinton family’s forge, were used in the construction of the house, she wrote, and many are still visible.
“This house,” said Duffy, “is like a museum of historical building materials.”
The house was sold by the Brinton family in 1957, Duffy said, and served as a community center of sorts for decades. It currently houses the Finishing School, which offers sewing and cooking classes.
“It’s very important to the community,” Duffy said, “although it’s in a small, hidden place.”
The developer considered other options
The project first appeared on the agenda of a planning commission in October.
Kevin Ludlow, President of Sequoia Development, said his company has followed all due procedures, including hosting a neighborhood meeting and holding public meetings with the city, and has never encountered any opposition.
“It’s just kind of weird that we’re suddenly getting anonymous letters now,” he said. “We don’t even know who the people who are upset about this are. They send us mail, but without a name, without an address, without a return address. We did what we should do. We feel good about our efforts.”
The company considered moving the house onto the property, Ludlow said, but it wasn’t feasible.
Plans for his project also considered including the existing structure as a convenience for future residents, but the house was too wide to meet standards for emergency vehicle access to the rest of the property.
Ludlow said his company also heard from an individual who claimed to have a perfect spot to move the house.
“I said, ‘Feel free to speak to another moving company and see if there’s a way we can take it on and move it,’ but we just found that wasn’t possible,” he said. “It’s not like we walked in here without realizing that this is an old home.”
Holladay Mayor Robert Dahle said concerns about the loss of historic buildings are legitimate, but the property is privately owned and the city has no options.
“The city has limited control over what happens to it,” he said, “and that’s where the catch lies.”
Because the developer’s proposal does not require a zoning change, it does not require City Council approval.
Balance between history and property rights
Dahle said the city’s historical commission has gained empathy from Councilman Dan Gibbons, who wants to study what preservation in Holladay might look like in the future. The mayor said the city wants to make sure it gets a legal opinion on potential legislation and gets feedback from the public.
“The big concern,” said Gibbons, “is that we are losing our history, at least that one aspect of history – the architectural history of the city – which is very rich and very old.”
Gibbons said he is in study mode for now and is calling for working sessions with council members to learn more about the preservation.
If he were to propose a regulation now, he believes it would be rejected.
Gibbons said he wants to work through any ramifications that might arise from passing a conservation ordinance, including legal threats, logistical issues and staffing needs.
He said there are concerns about a conservation ordinance that invites developers and property owners to legal challenges. In almost all cases, he said, a city’s insurance company won’t cover the statutory bill.
Gibbons said he was heartbroken about the home’s impending demolition, but that the challenge of protecting other buildings in the future depended on balancing the desire for preservation with property rights, the possibility of legal liability and financial implications.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Yes, we’d like an ordinance,'” Gibbons said. “However, it is another to understand what we would be getting ourselves into.”
Historic preservationist David Amott, former executive director of Preservation Utah, believes cities can protect their history without trampling on the rights of property owners.
“It’s so completely and unrestrictedly possible for a city to maintain property rights,” he said, “while still having an active, healthy conservation plan and even an ordinance.”
Amott pointed to Provo’s ordinance as a model for protecting property rights while providing a way to protect historic buildings.
Utah County city rules allow property owners to elect a program that provides greater protection for historic buildings. Subsequent owners of these buildings would require the Historical Commission to sign off on ownership changes.
Although the number of property owners seeking historical designation is limited, Amott said the program’s availability over the years has resulted in a collection of protected properties that tell the story of Provo.
“Some of the best architectural moments in Provo,” he said, “are represented in this collection of properties.”
No specific date has been set for the demolition of the Brinton home in Holladay. But the wrecking ball is coming.
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