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Sugar House Streetcar vote continues to echo in City Hall

Published May 22, 2013 7:13 am

Transportation • Becker's victory on the trolley's 1100 East alignment still stings opponents.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Was the Sugar House Streetcar alignment along 1100 East a fait accompli or the result of research and discourse?

The Salt Lake City Council's split 4-3 vote in favor of routing Phase II of the streetcar north along 1100 East from 2100 South to 1700 South appears to be years away from becoming reality. But the May 7 decision continues to reverberate in Sugar House and City Hall.

A postmortem reveals the depth of a struggle between the administration of Mayor Ralph Becker and Sugar House residents, business owners and some council members.

Becker favored the 1100 East alignment over a passel of other options after a consultant's analysis made public in March found it to be the "preferred alternative."

Art Raymond, a spokesman for the mayor, said the "transparent" process was accomplished by a consultant with "no stake in the outcome." There were public meetings on the consultant's report plus a city ombudsman made in-person visits to most of the businesses on 1100 East from 2100 South to 1300 South and found that a majority favored the streetcar coming their direction, added Raymond.

That outreach notwithstanding, more than 200 residents packed City Hall for a public hearing on the streetcar alignment on April 23 and a majority of them voiced objection to the 1100 East option.

At the forefront of the uprising was Sugar House resident George Chapman who, prior to the public hearing, passed out fliers and helped organize opposition to the 1100 East plan. The Becker administration responded with a letter of its own in an effort to "clarify" what it said were "Mr. Chapman's misrepresentations, inaccuracies and false statements."

Some saw the administration's letter as an attack on Chapman.

Sugar House resident and business owner Lori Leighton said she received two copies of the letter — one at her business and one at home.

"I was pretty alarmed they would write something like that about an individual," she said. "Every person I've talked to was appalled by the letter."

But a spokesman for the mayor said Chapman left the administration little choice.

"It is certainly unusual for one individual to spend so much time and energy propagating false information and fear among residents and business owners in this area," Raymond said in a statement Friday. "It was clear that people were jumping to conclusions based on Mr. Chapman's efforts and we were compelled to respond and correct the misinformation. … For clarity's sake, it became necessary to be specific as to where the misinformation was originating."

For Chapman, who considers himself nothing more than an interested resident, it's like water off a duck's back.

"Calling me a liar in writing to my friends and neighbors didn't make much sense," he said last week. "But if [the mayor] wants to kick himself in the butt, it's an internal management decision and I won't protest."

Others call the administration's response to Chapman fair play in a community political battle. Among that group is City Councilman Soren Simonsen, who represents Sugar House.

"George Chapman was very effective in organizing opposition," said Simonsen, who does not favor the 1100 East route. "The thing I find most disingenuous about the [administration's] letter is that it criticizes Chapman for misinformation, but contains a lot of misinformation from the city."

Simonsen took note of some who spoke at the public hearing who believe the 1100 East alignment was a foregone conclusion, despite denials from the Becker administration.

The councilman said the $150,000 report from consultants Fehr & Peers is flawed because it was based on false assumptions by a "small number of stakeholders and a small number of [Becker's] staff."

"Why wasn't Sugar House Park included as a destination in the report?" he asked.

If it were, the outcome of the analysis would have been different, he said.

In addition, Simonsen said the report based its findings on measuring "rides per mile" rather than "total ridership." If the analysis had been based on the latter metric, a proposed route through the Sugar House Center shopping center near ShopKo would clearly have been the "preferred alternative."

And, not least, Simonsen said the administration's public outreach efforts were not presented in an unbiased manner and did not include enough different constituencies, most notably users of mass transit.

However, the mayor's spokesman said that Simonsen's critique is off mark. And the study did consider Sugar House Park, Raymond said.

"[But] for the final ridership numbers, well-established data from across the United States indicated that park spaces were not significant contributors to ridership. Therefore, Sugar House Park was not included in final ridership numbers."

In addition, Raymond said the study did measure total ridership along with a variety of other factors.

"That does not mean that 1100 East scored better than other options on all factors, but rather that the totality of information — including technical analysis and community input — pointed to 1100 East as the best alignment to pursue next," he said.

Further, consultants and the administration did involve business owners along 1100 East, as well as other businesses in the greater Sugar House area, Raymond said, including the Sugar House Merchants Association, Sugar House Coffee, Smith-Crown vacuums, Urbana condominiums, Fiddler's Elbow and Sterling Furniture.

"Invitations to these meetings were widely circulated to the Sugar House business community," Raymond said.

Nonetheless, at the City Council's May 14 meeting, members appeared to have the public clash over the streetcar alignment still very much on their minds.

Before approving a plan — seven months in the making — for the proposed Sugar House Monument Plaza at 2100 South and 1100 East, almost all council members voiced support for further public input.

Said Councilman Stan Penfold referring to the streetcar kerfuffle, "We don't want to go through that again."

csmart@sltrib.com The text of George Chapman's flier

The Salt Lake City Council will hold a public hearing on the future route of the Sugar House streetcar on the 23rd of April at 7:00 pm. The alternative route recommended in a study completed last year first goes to Highland Dr. from the present McClelland streetcar stop. From there the future route is proposed to run north on 11th East to 2100 South in the near term and extend north to 1700 South in the longer term.

I am against the streetcar route on 11th E. due to the impact of the rail construction on small businesses and residents. Traffic is already backed up 2 blocks on 21st S. and 11th E. and could get so bad that many small businesses may not survive the construction. After completion, the streetcar may increase how frequently traffic backs up during passenger stops.

After the construction, the rail system will result in higher property values which will result in higher taxes. While it is not suggested in the Sugar House Phase 2 Alternatives Analysis, some rail proposals have suggested assessment fees to provide funds to operate the systems. Also, while the Alternatives Analysis assumed no changes in zoning, the increased taxes could encourage redevelopment and possible rezoning of homes and businesses to provide higher density and mixed use.

There is a proposal to send the streetcar to Sugar House Park through Wilmington or the ShopKo block. That proposal will not hurt businesses or single-family homes. It will support high density development with a much higher return to SLC with taxes. The increased value of property may provide a funding mechanism for the streetcar extension. From there, it could go east on 21st S. past Highland High and to the commercial area near 23rd East.

I encourage everyone to make their opinions known to their SLC City Council directly and through Open City Hall even if you can attend the April 23 City Council meeting.

George Chapman