A committee of Alpine historic preservationists has been given a deadline to find a way to save a 144-year-old house from demolition.
Mayor Don Watkins asked residents who don't want the house to be razed to work out a solution in the next two weeks that will be fair to the owners, a couple who have owned the home at 45 N. 100 East for three years.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants the land to expand a parking lot at a neighboring chapel. Church leaders have a pending deal to buy the quarter-acre parcel.
"If there is a solution economically for the home, then (church officials) will hear it," Watkins said. "What we are saying is that citizens need to take up the charge because there are no city funds to help buy the house."
The adobe home was part of the Wordsworth Fort, which was built by pioneer settlers in 1853 for protection during a war with a tribe of American Indians. Historians believe it may be the only house left from a period in Utah's history when Brigham Young, as governor of Deseret, issued an order to settle inside 10-acre citadels of logs and mud.
Concurring with Watkins, Councilwoman Pheobe Blackham said she does not favor using tax money to keep the house from being sold. Funds already are committed to several projects honoring rustic pieces of Alpine's history.
"To give the historical committee even a hope of any city money is unfair," Blackham said. "I don't think the church will move. They'll sit back and wait for the community to make a decision."
Jess Hunsaker, president of the Alpine LDS Stake, said the church acknowledges the community's concern for the preservation of the home, which admittedly is a reminder of the pioneer struggle.
Parking at the nearby church is extremely limited, however. In addition, residents who live near the church have been inconvenienced by churchgoers stationing their cars in the street during meetings, he said.
"We have a great desire to alleviate that with more parking," he said. "But we're not going to do it with church funds or tithing money."
Kathy Heiner, a newly appointed leader of the city's historical group, said although the house isn't considered a likely tourist attraction or museum, it would be ironic for the demolition order to come from the LDS Church.
"I find it strange, really," Heiner said. "I'm amazed at the integrity of the house and how it's been kept in the time period. If you were to go in it you would be excited at the possibilities."
Alpine does not have an ordinance that prohibits an owner from tearing down a house, said City Attorney David Church.
The owners could be told to obtain a permit through the historical committee, he said, but a permit would likely be granted because there is no legal reason to deny the request. The house is not listed on the state's historical register.
An option, he said, would be to take the property through eminent domain powers. But the city or another group would have to pay the owners fair market value for the land and house.