Advantage: persistent park neighbor.

Melissa Barbanell earned a small victory this week in her back-and-forth battle with Salt Lake City over the Liberty Park tennis bubble when the issue was remanded back to the city's Historic Landmark Commission for further review.

Barbanell, a lawyer who lives near Liberty Park, has been challenging the legality of the tennis bubble since June 2004, when the city's planning and zoning division approved its construction.

The problem with that decision, Barbanell argued, is that Liberty Park is a historic site, and construction of the tennis bubble should have required a hearing of the Historic Landmark Commission.

"There's an ordinance in place for landmark sites," she said. "I'm still waiting for someone to apply the ordinance and decide how it comes out."

Barbanell contends the city has disregarded much of the ordinance because city officials believe some sections don't apply to the park. If the ordinance was applied correctly, she said, the bubble would not be allowed.

That would be bad news for the 5,000 or so tennis players who regularly use the courts during winter months. The longer the issue remains unresolved, the more likely it becomes that the bubble will not be erected this winter.

"I think it's a legitimate concern," said Jill Remington Love, chairwoman of the Salt Lake City Council.

Love said changes to the city ordinance are in the works that would address parks and landscaping in historic sites separate from buildings and other structures. The creation of a management or oversight group for city parks also is being considered, she said.

"There's not really a process set up to advise the city on what is appropriate and isn't appropriate in our parks," Love said.

Barbanell said a new ordinance is a step in the right direction. Though she believes the current ordinance is clear, several people have interpreted and applied it differently.

"If they can take their ordinances and disregard them at will, which is what they've done in this case, there's not a lot of value to an ordinance," she said.

Barbanell said her biggest concern with the tennis bubble being allowed is the precedent it sets. If the bubble can be constructed against city ordinance, it opens the door for future additions or alterations to Liberty Park or other landmark sites.

The 27,000-square-foot bubble that covers four tennis courts at the Salt Lake park has survived two rounds of approvals and appeals and now is in the midst of a third.

In January 2005, the city's Board of Adjustment reviewed and upheld the original decision, which Barbanell then appealed to 3rd District Court. The court found in favor of Barbanell and instructed the city to start over with the decisionmaking process.

A second round of approvals and appeals began in June 2006, when city staff approved a certificate of appropriateness for the tennis bubble. City staff concluded that the bubble was a minor alteration and that approval from the Historic Landmark Commission was not needed because Liberty Park is the landmark site, not the tennis courts.

The city's Board of Adjustment upheld the decision in July 2006, which again was appealed to the court.

In November 2007, Judge Robert P. Faust ruled against the city, determining that the tennis bubble at Liberty Park was new construction, not a minor modification, to a landmark site.

That led to a review in February by the Historic Landmark Commission, which upheld the city's decision.

Barbanell again appealed, saying she wasn't satisfied with the review because commissioners too easily accepted the staff report on the bubble and didn't evaluate or analyze the ordinance.

On Monday night, the Land-Use Appeals Board agreed with that assessment. The Historic Landmarks Commission will again review the decision, likely at its August or September meetings.

The $750,000 bubble was donated to the city by a group of tennis advocates, and the Salt Lake City Council approved money for upgrades to install it.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com