SLC clears way for new apartments at Western Garden Centers site near Trolley Square

Beloved business plans to shut down its east-side store “a couple of seasons” from now after a seven-decade run.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Western Gardens on 600 East in Salt Lake City is shown in December 2021. The owners of the 73-year-old nursery have applied to rezone the site with plans to replace it with a new apartment complex.

Salt Lake City has approved new zoning to let the owners of Western Garden Centers build an apartment complex at the site west of Trolley Square after it closes as a longtime garden supplier.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved converting the 2.28-acre parcel at 550 S. 600 East from neighborhood commercial use to a new form-based kind of zoning, greenlighting plans for what tentatively will be a four-story, multifamily project built by Cottonwood Residential, a developer based in Salt Lake City.

Council member Darin Mano said, in light of concerns from neighbors, the project will be covered by an additional contract with developers to mandate 25-foot setbacks from adjacent single-family homes west of the parcel and guarantee additional on-premises parking.

Mano said the city lacked the ideal zoning for tailoring the development to its largely residential surroundings, “so the best we can do until we’re able to adopt those is to adopt them with development agreements which are hopefully as specific as possible.”

Longtime Western Garden owner Lon Clayton said last December the popular store would stay in business “for a couple more seasons” before it closes after 73 years and he and others involved retire.

“It’s very sad for us to do it,” Clayton said at the time, “but we’re old men now, and there’s nobody new in the family — or not in the family, for that matter — to take it over.”

Announcement of the pending closure sent shudders through the ranks of many longtime gardeners on the city’s east side and elsewhere. The store has specialized for generations in Utah’s native plant species and shared advice on the region’s growing conditions.

The family’s Sandy location closed four years ago, leaving one remaining outlet at 4050 W. 4100 South in West Valley City.

Developers have said new zoning for the Salt Lake City site will open “an opportunity to create a unique community within the neighborhood” that is walkable, close to mass transit, has its own parking and will boost retail support for commercial outlets at adjacent Trolley Square.

No official timeline has been offered as yet on when the apartment project might break ground or be completed.