Salt Lake City creates historic district process
New rules • Residents can vote to create two types of districts to set criteria for remodeling and demolition.
Published: October 24, 2012 10:46AM
Updated: February 7, 2013 11:32PM

Call it zoning by popular vote or a way to avoid neighborhood warfare.

The Salt Lake City Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday evening to allow residents to create local historic districts. Councilman Luke Garrot was the lone dissenting vote.

The council also adopted by a unanimous vote an ordinance that would permit residents to create less restrictive character conservation districts.

According to the new ordinances championed by Councilman Charlie Luke, who represents the Yalecrest neighborhood, 15 percent of households in a defined area could launch the creation of either a historic district or a character conservation district. The City Council or mayor could also initiate the process for forming such districts.

A historic district’s guidelines have strict criteria for remodeling or demolition. Residents would make up their own guidelines in a character conservation district.

In both cases, the City Council would send ballots to residents. A majority would determine whether the new district would be formed.

Luke said the new ordinances would allow neighborhoods to move forward with preservation. The Yale-crest neighborhood has been locked in a stalemate since 2009 when residents sought to form a local historic district.

“Some might think this does not go far enough to protect private property rights,” Luke said. “Some may think it goes too far.”

State Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, weighed in during the 2011 Legislature with legislation that halted new districts with the admonition to Salt Lake City that if it didn’t find a solution to the conundrum in Yalecrest, the Legislature would.

Yalecrest resident Kelly Marinan, who favors a local historic district in her area, said she wants to stop the tear-downs and monster homes that have concerned many residents.

If she can’t have a historic district in Yalecrest, Marinan said she would like a character conservation district.

“I would like to let people change their homes,” she said. “I just want some responsibility.”

Council Chairman Soren Simonsen said the new ordinance will not preclude new historic districts in Salt Lake City.

“Fifteen percent of property owners [within a district] is not a very high threshold,” he said.

Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, who represents the west side, said he is excited about the creation of a character conservation-district ordinance.

“This gives us a lot of opportunities. It recognizes distinctive attributes in our city that may not be historic.”

But Garrott and others, like Kirk Huffaker, executive of the Utah Heritage Foundation, had said earlier that zoning by popular vote sets a dangerous precedent.

City Council OKs Move to Amend poll

In a unanimous vote, the City Council adopted an ordinance to poll Salt Lake City voters on opinion questions.

The action is the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and the ensuing petition and legal struggle by a grass-roots organization called Move to Amend.

The organization sought to ask voters to endorse or reject two statements:

1 • Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights.

2 • Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting free speech.

Although the group gathered enough petition signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, Utah law prohibits putting such questions before voters.

Move to Amend has been able to get the measure on ballots in 164 U.S. cities, according to organizers.

Council Chairman Soren Simonsen said the city is supportive of Move to Amend’s democratic rights.

Salt Lake City residents will be informed on how they can participate in the poll.