In a letter published last week in the Salt Lake Tribune, University of Utah professor Reid Ewing gave "kudos to Mayor Ralph Becker and the Salt Lake City Council for hanging tough in the face of neighborhood opposition to density along the streetcar line." He also said that: "It is a model of good regional development."
I believe that is wrong because "good regional development" does not try to change stable and inviting neighborhoods to meet a goal that is not shared by the residents.
Good government does not tear down award winning neighborhoods to create a vision.
The area around the Salt Lake City streetcar line (east of 500 East) to Fairmont Park is the same area that received an award last year for being one of America’s top 10 great neighborhoods. The Fairmont award was celebrated by the City Council and mayor.
Salt Lake City is proposing to rezone property around rail stations to much higher density, allowing buildings up to 105 feet tall. These neighborhoods have been stable, quiet and inviting to families. The result of the rezone will increase traffic and parking problems in the area. This issue is similar to the debate in other areas in other cities that are being upgraded to more expensive housing. It is called gentrification.
In an attempt to "upgrade deteriorated areas," cities around the country are trying to redevelop stable neighborhoods with mixed-use buildings.
The downside is that it changes the nature of a city and the character of a neighborhood. It can also lead to long-term residents and renters being priced out of an area.
When the rezoning increases property value, the increased taxes may make it impossible to keep a home or pay the increase in rent. San Francisco, Miami and Washington, D.C., have all experienced the loss of neighborhoods and loss of long-term residents due to these redevelopments.
Instead of rezoning single-family home neighborhoods, development should be encouraged along major traffic corridors like State Street. The character of adjacent neighborhoods should be important considerations when planning good regional development. Residents should be part of the process.
The council did direct staff to go slower and to create a more gradual increase in density next to single-family homes. But the mayor’s plan still has not publicly changed. The community is being asked to comment on a plan that is not on paper. That is not the way that good decisions and planning take place. The staff should provide a plan that reflects the Council’s direction and then allow Salt Lake citizens to comment on it.
This process should not be taught to students of planning as a great vision. Students should be taught that planning is an important part of a municipal government. It is due to the implied promise, that when people move into a single-family zoned area, that the area will stay zoned that way. The residents do not expect monster homes, high-rises or commercial or manufacturing facilities next door.
Students should also be taught that good government should require a decision on whether rezoning is appropriate before a rail line is built.
Students should also study the research that shows that investment in high-quality transit should not be limited to rail. Studies show that bus systems are much more efficient and cost effective.
George Chapman is a retired engineer and the Republican candidate for District 2 in the Utah State Senate.
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