A proposed change in construction rules could add a good-sized closet, a small bedroom, or just a little elbow room to every new "starter home" built in West Valley City.

Proponents say it could also enhance West Valley's image and boost property values throughout the community.But opponents argue that it will add $4,500 or more to the cost of the average entry-level home and price many first-time home buyers out of the market. And they warn that builders may take their business elsewhere.

The issue, first raised during a City Council meeting last month, has renewed a discussion about the city's evolving identity: Should West Valley City be content to remain a community of low- and moderate-priced housing - "home of the starter home" - or should it strive to upgrade itself?

"Residents have indicated that they want bigger houses and bigger lots in West Valley City," explained Mayor Brent F. Anderson, citing a survey the city conducted in May 1990. "That's what this proposal is about."If the change is adopted, all single family dwellings in West Valley will be required to have a minimum area of 1,000 square feet on the main floor, an increase of 100 square feet.

Anderson said there is a place for small, affordable housing in the community, "but why not start them a little bigger?" Young families who first moved into the 900-square-foot ramblers that were built 12 to 15 years ago have grown up and are moving into larger homes.

"What happens to all those starter homes as those families move on?" the mayor asked, suggesting that it might be time now for the housing stock to move on as well.

Raising the minimum standard increases the overall, long-term value of area housing while at the same time maintaining the availability of the smaller starter homes in West Valley neighborhoods, said Anderson.

The idea for the change grew out of a staff report that noted that about 40 percent of the city's building permits during the past year were for 900- to 950-square-foot homes (main floor), indicating that builders are continuing to emphasize the smaller size home in West Valley City.

"The City Council thought it (40 percent) was too much and suggested we take a look at possible options," explained Joseph L. Moore, West Valley's community development director.

Comments from residents at neighborhood meetings added impetus to the policy review, he added. "A lot of people said they wanted to get out of their starter homes and yet stay in their neighborhoods, but they discovered that they would have to move to Sandy or somewhere else to find a larger house."

Because the loss of long-time residents is generally seen as a threat to community stability, city planners worry that house size is affecting the character of their neighborhoods.

While West Valley officials are not advocating a complete reversal, they do argue that the city already has more than its fair share of small houses.

"I think we have more than any other community in the state," said Moore. "We have a whole lot of smaller homes on smaller lots with no way to expand."

Builder Marvin Hendrickson, whose company - Bangerter & Hendrickson Enterprises - has been extensively involved in the Salt Lake Valley's residential development, believes the change would further erode free choice.

"I think the community is better served if it maintains the flexibility of smaller lots and houses," he said. "Let the market place dictate the size."

While conceding that West Valley has an abundance of entry-level homes, Hendrickson maintains that its housing mix is the product of valleywide market forces.

"If you could take State Street and move it to 3600 West and say that West Valley is on the east side, then maybe you would get more of the bigger houses there," he said. "People may want to live on the east side, but when you ask them what they can afford, they look to the west."

Hendrickson said he finds it ironic that people who chose West Valley because of its affordable housing now want to limit that choice for others. The extra $4,500 each new house might cost will make a significant difference to many homebuyers, he said.

West Valley realtor Albert Leinweber believes that larger houses are important to the housing mix, but said cost is a bigger factor than size in most sales. The extra 100 square feet is not likely to affect the new housing market except to the extent that it excludes potential buyers, he said.

"It depends on what the builders do with it," Leinweber said. "If they can work it into their plans without adding a lot to the price, then I think it's a plus."

Moore said planners are seeking opinions from builders, realtors and residents. "The 1,000 square feet is the direction the City Council gave to the Planning Commission. It's a starting point. We'll do our research and have a public hearing and then see what comes of it."