Rocky Mountain Power is preparing to develop nearly 100 acres along North Temple in a way that could transform Utah’s capital, but city officials worried Wednesday they haven’t seen the full plan yet.
The company wants to rezone 5.5 acres at about 1275 W. North Temple along the Jordan River to build a new headquarters, operations center and parking garage, but that’s just a start.
The utility has vast ambitions for creating a premier transit-oriented community on the rest of the largely industrial strip it owns, extending west from the proposed headquarters along that North Temple light rail corridor over an area roughly the size of Liberty Park.
The Power Station District, as it will be called, is envisioned as a mini-city of sorts, judging from initial designs unveiled Wednesday. The plan is to add to the offices in phases, Rocky Mountain Power said, bringing lots of walkable housing and commercial development to that rapidly growing west-side stretch and catering to its access to two TRAX stations.
Details on the new district emerge as the North Temple corridor is exploding with new housing construction, much of it accelerated by federal tax breaks. Plans also also are shaping up for a major mixed-use overhaul at the Utah State Fairpark, across the street from this site.
The planning commission recommended the City Council approve Rocky Mountain Power’s rezone request but not without a grilling from members on how the bigger development is expected to unfold.
Melissa Jensen, with the Giv Group, a Salt Lake City firm representing the utility, said it sees itself as “a catalytic player in the commercial, retail and pedestrian space” and wants to “create an area that is pedestrian-focused and honors the Jordan River.”
“They’re looking to build a high-performance building and ensuring that as other development happens on the site, they will do that,” Jensen said. Some of the land might be sold over time, she added, “but ultimately you have a steward here that is going to be working for a very long time.”
The district also would take a decade or more to build and the company said it is under immediate pressure now from utility regulators to get the new operations center underway.
“For grid resilience and operability of the system as a whole,” said Mario Costanzo, senior project manager for Rocky Mountain Power, “that building needs to come in.”
So company wants the initial rezone to get started, and is asking the city to convert those 5.5 acres from light manufacturing to special transit-oriented uses, mostly to allow for more height and density in the office complex and adjoining buildings and to generate more green space along the Jordan River.
The plan for this first phase, according to Susan Petheram, a senior planner with FFKR Architects, is to locate the new office complex well south of the North Temple frontage to make room for future transit-oriented housing and other construction closer to the street. But, after nearly 20 months of work, Rocky Mountain Power officials acknowledged Wednesday they haven’t finished a larger master vision on the rest of the land that they can share.
“I just have a difficult time really understanding the overall context without seeing the whole master plan,” planning commission member Mike Christensen said. He noted that other city plans acknowledge how several primary east-west streets such as South Temple seem to disappear in that neighborhood.
“You lose the street grid, and it basically kills walkability,” Christensen said. “So I really wish that there was some type of plan that showed how that would be restored to this area.”
Others noted that the zoning Rocky Mountain Power is seeking does not specifically require housing to be built, though FFKR planners said the designs include plenty of residential construction.
There has also been no mention so far of coordinating the utility’s proposed refresh to that segment of the Jordan River when it builds the headquarters with a new blueprint for the river recently released by the Jordan River Commission, said its executive director, Søren Simonsen.
The city, Simonsen noted, is a signatory to that blueprint, and the commission is offering its expertise to Rocky Mountain Power. Other development in the area, he said, “has us a little bit nervous that we’re not really thinking about the river as community building and connecting threads or really contemplating it beyond the boundaries of each property owner.”
Jensen said Rocky Mountain Power could not hold up the push to build the new headquarters for the results of additional planning, which she assured the commission is ongoing. “There’s lots of continued room for discussion on the master plan, and we don’t want to squander that,” she said, promising to provide additional information “if necessary.”
But as to the request rezone, she added, “we’re not in a position to extend the timeline.”