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Historic district in Yalecrest? Maybe next year, maybe never

Published February 23, 2012 9:42 am

With SB115 breezing through the Legislature, Yalecrest residents gain time to compromise.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A state lawmaker from Sandy thinks Yalecrest's corrosive historic-district conundrum can be solved with math.

Because the east-bench Salt Lake City hamlet seems to be divided 50-50, why not make the threshold for permanent home protection two-thirds?

That is what Sen. Wayne Niederhauser planned to propose in the 2012 legislative session. But because last fall's city elections put historic-district negotiations in "paralysis," there was not enough time to broker the sensitive deal.

So Niederhauser, with the city's endorsement, is punting the problem to the 2013 calendar. His substitute SB115 would extend for one year a moratorium on creating new historic districts in the city.

"My intent all along was to create a moratorium so I can get my concept out," Niederhauser said. "When you are going to take away property rights to that extent, there needs to be more buy-in, and that's why I proposed the threshold of two-thirds."

The goal now, both the senator and City Hall agree, is for residents of one of the city's most fetching but fragmented neighborhoods to use the time to fashion a compromise.

"Hopefully they'll come to a conclusion on how to deal with this," Niederhauser told a receptive House committee, "especially in the Yalecrest area."

The moratorium breezed through the Legislature and now awaits Gov. Gary Herbert's signature. Concerned about the restrictions on home additions and remodels, Niederhauser introduced the initial one-year historic district moratorium last year, which remains in effect.

Historic-district advocates concede little headway has been gained in the gridlock, so they say the extra year makes sense.

"It's the best the city can ask for at this time," Ben Winchester, a spokesman for Yalecrest's anti-historic district group, told the House committee.

Some state lawmakers expressed reservations about "meddling" in a city zoning issue. Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, reiterated his oft-repeated line: "We talk about local control until we decide we have to control the locals."

Yalecrest, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is dotted by charming rows of tudors, colonials, bungalows and other century-old homes. Designating a historic district would prevent teardowns, send many remodel reviews to the city's Historic Landmark Commission and force most additions to the side or rear of houses. Fans say it would preserve character while foes say it would be too restrictive, particularly for modern families looking for room to grow.

Under the moratorium terms, razings also would be prevented until May 14, 2013.

Justin Allen, representing the Utah Association of Realtors and Salt Lake City Board of Realtors, supports the one-year pause. He says it is critical that a historic-district process be established, arguing it is "a larger issue than just Salt Lake City."

"I hope this serves as a precursor," he said, "to come up with the framework to avoid these kind of neighborhood blowups."

New District 6 City Councilman Charlie Luke, who heard an earful about Yalecrest during the campaign, says he is confident a solution will be reached. "We are fully committed to bringing this issue to a resolution before the next session," he told lawmakers.

If not, Niederhauser says he has a bill in his "back pocket." And it has his original number for creating a historic district: two-thirds.