As downtown Salt Lake City grows, a major clash has emerged over how to fill gaps in its urban smile.
Nearly two years after the $1.5 billion LDS Church-owned City Creek Center shopping complex opened on two city blocks, downtown advocates and some of Utah’s most powerful developers are frustrated over policies they say thwart construction on land surrounding the new mall.
In November 2012, Salt Lake City passed a ban on demolishing buildings in the city’s central business district for surface parking lots. The new ordinance also prohibits surface lots and parking structures on block corners downtown and along Main Street. Lots midblock must be behind a building or set 75 feet back from the front property line.
In December 2012, the city changed its demolition ordinance to require timely completion of demolitions and subsequent property improvements. It also put limits on tearing down buildings without an approved reuse plan for the land.
Source: Salt Lake City Council meeting minutes
Their vexation focuses on two city ordinances limiting surface parking lots and demolition of old buildings downtown, as well as a massive boost in fees on residential and commercial projects to pay for roads, parks and other municipal services.
Developers say the rules and impact fees — some of which quadrupled — are hampering downtown construction, just as Utah’s real estate markets start to rebound.
"We’re trying not to get red-faced about it, but we’re very concerned," said Bruce Bingham, a founder of Hamilton Partners, the firm that developed and now manages 222 Main, the 22-story high-end office tower northwest of the Wells Fargo Center on Main Street.
City leaders say the measures, which took effect a year ago, help share the burdens of growth and are crucial to ensuring an attractive, green and vibrant downtown.
"Quality city services and public spaces are exactly what people want when they move downtown and developers know that," said Councilman Luke Garrott, whose District 4 covers much of the inner city. "We just want to spread the pain around while we’re building our future."
Several new developments sprouted in 2013 around City Creek, which reportedly modified its early plans at the city’s urging to include more access points from the surrounding downtown.
City leaders announced a new Utah Performing Arts Center to be built on Main near 100 South. Tech-oriented Neumont University opened a new campus in the refurbished Ezra Thompson Building at 143 S. Main, former home of The Salt Lake Tribune.
But developers said potential for a larger impact around the mall remains unfulfilled.
The impact fees have developers threatening to move to other cities, halting projects and even talking about legal action against City Hall, according to staff for Mayor Ralph Becker, who wants the City Council to reconsider the fees when it swears in three new members Monday.
The mayor remains a supporter of impact fees, his spokesman Art Raymond said, but has called for a more gradual approach.
Providing facilities and services that attract and serve residents downtown — green areas, plazas, schools, grocery stores — "can and should be done at least in part through impact fees on new growth," Raymond said. "The question then becomes one of scale and appropriateness."
Becker’s proposed fees, Raymond said, are "more palatable to the development community."
Death by parking » Less than a block from City Creek, with broken windows and a boarded-up exterior, the 105-year-old Arrow Press Square building on West Temple looks like a rotten tooth. Nobody knows better than its owner that the decaying four-floor edifice — in full view of visitors to the Salt Palace Convention Center across the street — is an eyesore.
"It’s dangerous. It’s dilapidated. The building next door caught fire and damaged this building," said Vasilios Priskos, founder of InterNet Properties and co-developer of the Neumont site, with partner Michael Ferro.
Even if Priskos poured millions into improving Arrow Press Square, he said, "as much as I want to, I can’t save it."
"It has become a public nuisance," said Priskos, "and we have to do something about it."
But he said the city’s demolition rules won’t let him tear it down — not without a building permit in hand for what will go up in its place. Nor can developers flatten structures and put in parking lots while they figure out what else to build, under a prohibition on new surface lots in the city’s central business district. Parking lots are not allowed even as a moneymaking transitional use.
The rules have two goals, city planners say. One is balancing convenience for motorists with keeping downtown worth visiting.Next Page >
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