Highland Drive could have a different look in the near future, as Holladay city officials update the corridor’s master plan.
But it could be several years before residents notice the changes. The plan’s main goal is to provide more flexibility for development as ownership of property along the corridor changes over time.
"Most people won’t even notice a difference," said City Manager Randy Fitts. "It will come piece by piece."
Highland Drive has been in transition during the past few years, from large residential lots to a commercial corridor, Fitts said. Most of the area was originally zoned for single-family residential homes. But while luxury home developments have sprung up on side streets, Highland Drive itself has become less desirable for many residents, he said.
Instead of being limited to selling residential lots as single family homes, the new plan would allow property sellers to work with the city to get parcels rezoned as "neighborhood commercial" for interested buyers. That could mean higher-density residential zoning for a small condominium development, or commercial zoning for such businesses as a law office, restaurant or boutique. New buildings would have to be designed in keeping with the neighborhood’s existing character, Fitts said.
"It gives people more of an option as they acquire those pieces of property to make it usable for them and to make it more compatible for the neighborhood," Fitts said, adding that the plan would primarily impact the stretch of Highland from Murray-Holladay Road (about 4800 South) to I-215.
Fitts hopes the plan will attract more businesses like Café Madrid. Owner Gabriella McAfee was looking for a new location a few years ago, and noticed the empty lot at 5244 S. Highland Drive. The lot formerly housed the Pancho Villa restaurant, but reverted back to residential zoning one year after the restaurant was demolished, McAfee said. It took nearly two years for the rezoning to be approved, a process that should be much shorter under the new plan.
"They don’t want [new businesses] to go through what I went through," McAfee said. "I am totally in favor."
Property owners also are excited about the plan, said Vann Larson of Village Real Estate. His has been trying to sell a 1950s-era home on .55 acre at 5870 S. Highland Drive for a year and a half, Larson said. While the house has a funky contemporary charm, its location presents a problem.
"Most of the people who want to live in it don’t want to live on the busy street," Larson said. "It’s been kind of a tough sale."
But the land alone is worth the $289,000 asking price, Larson points out, and if the city were willing to rezone the property, he would likely have more options. A non-denominational church has expressed interest, and could either convert the existing building or tear it down and build a new one.
"Anything the city can do to give us more options is going to help in this tough market," said Larson, adding that he expects more homeowners will try to get off the busy road in the next few years.
One area in the plan remains ambiguous — the Cottonwood Mall. Language in the old plan called for the city to "create an exciting retail environment in the Cottonwood Mall area." But the new plan is more nuanced, recognizing that the lot — empty but for Macy’s — is likely to remain as such until the national economy recovers. Representatives of Howard Hughes Corp., the current property owner, declined to comment on the project’s progress for this story.
The city has already held two public hearings on the plan, neither of which attracted public comment. The council expects to adopt the final plan in February.
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