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.

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.

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. "Let the market place dictate the size."

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.