The LDS Church's plan to demolish a historic pocket of 22 Capitol Hill homes would negatively impact the entire city, says City Councilwoman Sydney Fonnesbeck.
The city's Historical Landmark Committee considered three petitions Wednesday by the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to demolish 18 homes along Gordon Place and four homes along north State Street.Gordon Place is located between First and Second North between State and Main Streets. Nestled among the homes bordering a narrow inner court is the Kimball pioneer cemetery, the first plot of ground in the valley formally dedicated as a burial. Heber C. Kimball, his eight wives, 12 sons and six daughters are among the 56 people buried there. Among the Gordon Place houses is the Albert H. Kimball home, built in 1898.
Lee Gunnerson, who represented the church at the meeting, said the homes on Gordon Place will be razed and then landscaped to create a buffer zone between the church's commercial property and the residential neighborhood. "We do not, at this time, have any proposals planned for any of the properties."
But Gunnerson turned down a request by Landmark Committee Chairman Ranch Kimball that the land be preserved as a buffer zone through a long-term lease.
The committee tabled consideration of the petitions until church representatives submit detailed landscaping and watering plans, as the city's demolition ordinance requires.
Beyond the historic value of the pioneer homes, Fonnesbeck said, she is concerned because the Gordon Place properties adjoin commercially zoned property, where the church has a computer center. Neighborhood residents are afraid the church plans to expand the computer center onto Gordon Place.
Gordon Place is now residentially zoned, but it only takes four votes on the City Council to change that, Fonnesbeck said.
She said the city can ill afford to lose the housing units, and she charged the church with arrogance in tearing down pioneer homes with no announced plans for the property.
"Could you tell me who is making these decisions? I have a feeling you're not, and I'd like to deal with the people who are," Fonnesbeck asked Gunnerson.
Landmark Committee members asked Gunnerson if the church would participate as the city prepares a master plan for the area, schedule a meeting with the committee or consider alternative plans rather than demolition.
Gunnerson turned down all the requests.
The church acquired 1 1/4 acres on Gordon Place for more than $1 million late last year.
Bil Schwab, a historic planner for the city, said about half the homes are in good enough condition to be restored, and all of them have collective historic value.
Hermoine Jex, a Capitol Hill community leader, said the area is part of the vista corridor to the State Capitol that must be protected. She recommended that the four homes along State Street and the historic Kimball and James Dinwoodey homes on Gordon Place be purchased and restored.
"This valuable section of our city is the front yard of our State Capitol, the entrance to Memory Grove, the LDS Church center and our historic district. It is a prize tourist area, an economic asset. It needs ongoing improvements, not mass demolition without a plan or purpose," Jex said.
She said the church has failed to keep other promised buffers surrounding the old Lafayette School on North Temple and State Street.