Salt Lake City's Historic Landmark Commission may have delivered the winning shot in the four-year battle over the Liberty Park tennis bubble.

Commissioners defended their previous approval of the bubble Wednesday night with a point-by-point review of the city ordinance that regulates new construction in a historic site.

The commission then unanimously upheld its February decision to approve the tennis bubble as an appropriate alteration to the park.

Melissa 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.

Wednesday's action by the Historic Landmark Commission, Barbanell said, marks the "first defensible decision" city officials have made throughout the approvals and appeals process.

"I disagree with a lot of the reasoning," she said following the commission's vote. "That being said, I do think this is a defensible decision."

Barbanell previously appealed the Historic Landmark Commission's decision to the Land-Use Appeals Board. That led to Wednesday's second review of the appropriateness for a tennis bubble in Liberty Park — a historic site since 1979.

Barbanell said she could take her case back to the Land-Use Appeals Board and then 3rd District Court, if necessary, though she isn't sure she wants to do that.

"I really believe they finally fought through the problem, and that's what I've been asking for," she said.

Barbanell has argued that sections of the city ordinance regulating new construction in a historic site were incorrectly disregarded because city officials didn't believe they applied to the park.

The ongoing battle over the tennis bubble has gotten the attention of the Salt Lake City Council, and changes to the ordinance are in the works that would address parks and landscaping in historic sites separate from buildings and other structures.

Barbanell has been involved in discussions about the new ordinance.

"I'm hoping (the new ordinance) will be in place by the end of the year," she said.

This is the third round of approval and appeals for the 27,000-square-foot bubble that covers four tennis courts at the Salt Lake park.

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 decision-making 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.

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