But it’s historic: Derelict house, propped up by red tape, now can come down to make way for students


(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A dilapidated, fire-damaged building near 100 South 700 East in Salt Lake City is scheduled to be demolished for the neighboring Other Side Academy's expansion.

When it comes to navigating city landmark and zoning rules, “emergency” can be a relative term.

It’s taken The Other Side Academy, a Salt Lake City nonprofit, nearly 18 months to get an emergency permit to demolish the falling-down vacant house next door to make room for a planned expansion.

The group got that permit late Tuesday. But it took action by Mayor Jackie Biskupski, overruling city planners and landmarks commissioners, to overcome a zoning technicality that had tied their hands and held up the permit.

“Basically the ball was circling the rim and she was able to tap it in, and we’re grateful that she did,” Joseph Grenny, the Academy board’s chairman, said Thursday.

Founded in 2015, the Academy provides vocational education at no cost to people working to move past addiction problems, criminal records and incarceration. The organization plans to a build new 100-bed facility on property adjacent to its East 100 South location to house more students.

The problem was the house on the property, at 46 S. 700 East. Derelict, abandoned and hazardous, it is deemed historic nonetheless, dating from 1911. The Landmarks Commission was able to move past all but one of the bureaucratic roadblocks to razing it, except for a technicality over whether the site’s existing zoning would permit what Academy has in mind for it.

But that’s essentially a moot point in the narrower dialogue over whether to demolish the house. As Grenny noted: “It’s not zoned for a collapsing, dangerous building.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A dilapidated, fire-damaged building near 100 South 700 East in Salt Lake City, Thursday Feb. 15, 2018. Other Side Academy has received approval to demolish it for their expansion.

The mayor sided with the Academy, writing in her appeal decision that the Landmarks Commission had focused on the zoning “rather than on the structure itself,” and citing “undisputed evidence” that reusing the existing building “is realistically impossible.”

“This decision was not easy, but it is clear, with its extensive damage, this building can better serve Salt Lake City in a new way,” she said Thursday, noting the Academy’s efforts to “turn lives around to strengthen our community.”

With the go-ahead, the Academy can now seek a contractor to demolish the building, which will involve asbestos abatement. They hope to have it down within 90 days, Grenny said.

“I think the mayor saw there really was not a constituency that was saying, ‘Please protect this, it has historical value’,” he said.

A silver lining: publicity regarding the delay has raised the Academy’s public profile and brought new students.

“It’s been a worthwhile struggle in that sense,” he said.