Even with large numbers of neighbors avidly opposed to putting a new gas station on the edge of Sugar House Park, it’s an open question how much that flak will matter.
Plans to build a Kum & Go fueling station and convenience store where the vacated Sizzler restaurant stands at 1300 East and 2100 South are being overhauled in light of public input, including a withering critique by the Sugar House Community Council.
Its members raised worries over the new outlet’s potential worsening of traffic at that busy intersection, its environmental impacts, and negative effects from its proximity to the popular park.
City Council member Amy Fowler, whose District 7 covers much of Sugar House, has since weighed in steadfastly against the plans by the Iowa-based chain to place a two-story outlet near the regional park’s northwest corner.
“The amount of community feedback that I have had on this is incredible,” Fowler said in an interview.
Reflecting constituents’ sentiments as well as her own personal views as a Sugar House resident, she said: “This is not what is wanted. It is not the best use for that corner.”
Why the project may happen anyway
Planning Director Nick Norris confirmed the city’s review is on hold as it awaits revised site plans from Galloway & Company, a Salt Lake City consulting firm that is pressing the zoning application on Kum & Go’s behalf.
The timeline for future review by the city’s planning commission, Norris wrote in an email, “is up to the applicant.”
“We will not schedule it,” he said, “until we receive the same materials that they presented to the community recently, which included plans that were different than what we have on record.”
But assuming updated plans are resubmitted — Galloway is said to be working diligently toward that end — and official scrutiny resumes, it’ll be through a relatively narrow lens that some residents already find exasperating.
The 0.81 acre at that busy commercial intersection is private property, held by a company called Romney Farr Properties, based in Salt Lake City. This isn’t a city-sponsored project, contrary to one campaign against it on social media.
The parcels are zoned for “community business” uses, and under that zoning, gas stations are permitted as a conditional use.
As such, the 11-member planning commission is bound under city law to look at the proposal’s “reasonably anticipated detrimental effects,” and it can deny a conditional use permit only if those effects “cannot be substantially mitigated.”
The commission can impose conditions and modifications on how the project might get built to lessen those effects, Norris noted, but it can legally reject the conditional use permit only “if the detrimental impacts cannot reasonably be reduced.”
In other words, raw community opposition alone, however widespread and vigorous, does not appear to be enough to derail it.
How much say do residents have?
A frustrated Brandon Hill, co-chair of the Sugar House Chamber of Commerce, asked at a recent public meeting why the official approval Kum & Go is seeking is even called “a conditional use” if the residents’ opposition appears to have little sway.
“Why are we even at this point with this project if it’s a conditional project?” Hill asked in an interview. “No one in the community is for it, and that seems to me to be enough of a ‘condition.’”
At least one hefty opponent of the gas station — the Sugar House Park Authority, which governs the park — is arguing that community sentiment against it deserves more credence. While project backers might downplay opposing comments as “public clamor,” the authority wrote in a detailed letter against the project that “the comments cannot be dismissed so easily.”
The city’s criteria for reviewing the project, the park authority’s board president, Taylor Weavil, wrote, requires it to decide whether the gas station matches the “character of the site” and is consistent with “adjacent uses.”
“The gas station’s proposed use,” she said, “cannot meet those requirements.”
The planning commission also has to look, Weavile said, at whether the store can be “appropriately screened” and that its signage and lighting “do not negatively impact surrounding uses.”
“Even if the general public might not know the magic words needed to legally object to the gas station simply being the wrong ‘fit’ for this location,” she wrote, “their objections are well within the scope of the ordinance.
“Just like the planning commission would not approve a dance club adjacent to a cemetery,” Weavil added, “it should not approve a gas station in a notch of a regional park.”
City Council member Fowler, meanwhile, has vowed to vote against the Kum & Go proposal if it comes before the council — but as conditional use permit, turns out that is unlikely to happen.
Unlike zoning changes, which require approval from the council, the planning commission, according to Norris, “has final approval authority for conditional uses.”