Salt Lake City has approved a hotly fought rezone of 3.2 acres of open space in the Avenues that would make way for 19 new homes, at least 14 of them with built-in accessory dwellings.
Scores of well-organized opponents spoke out in recent months trying to derail the request by Ivory Homes to boost the permitted density on the property at the north end of F Street at 13th Avenue.
In several public hearings, they decried the proposed Capitol Park Cottages as out of character in one of the city’s oldest residential neighborhoods, insisting it would destroy cherished green space, create traffic and parking problems, endanger pedestrians and that its dwellings would be too tall and too packed together — amid a host of other concerns.
“We’re disappointed but not particularly surprised by the City Council’s [4-2] decision,” Peter Wright, an organizer of a grassroots coalition called Preserve Our Avenues Zoning, said Wednesday. “I would describe it as a triumph of political dogma over common sense.
“It seems to be, maximum density everywhere and almost at any cost,” Wright said, “regardless of whether it’s done well or even if it’s done safely.”
He added that opponents intended to speak up again when Ivory Homes seeks, as expected, city approval to create a planned unit development for the project.
Ivory Homes has countered that the requested additional density is appropriate for the property and compatible with adjacent blocks. The existing foothills zoning in the Avenues requiring larger home lots also is way out of date, it has said, especially given the city’s current demand for housing.
The project’s approach to prebuilt accessory dwellings, the homebuilder maintains, is also intended as an innovative way to bring more affordable rentals to that sought-after part of Salt Lake City.
A spokesperson for Ivory Homes said Wednesday that with the density question now settled, the firm will begin work in earnest on designing the best site plan it can for the property.
“We hope surrounding neighbors will engage with us,” said Chris Gamvroulas, president of Ivory Development, “to make sure we get it right.”
Safety worries arise
Changing the property from foothills residential uses to a special development district has been in the works for several years. By the time the issue reached the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday, the primary dispute over rezoning that spot at 675 North F Street hinged on the safety of a series of retaining walls integral to the project.
Tuesday’s debate was delayed for several weeks after council member Chris Wharton sought assurances from Ivory Homes and city staffers over how the walls would be engineered, in light of safety fears raised by neighbors.
Ivory Homes provided a letter to the council from a third-party geotechnical engineering firm that outlined general steps under the city’s process for ensuring the retaining walls are safe. But Wharton, whose district includes the Avenues, said Tuesday the letter did little to assuage worries of those living nearby.
He pointed to the previous failure of retaining walls elsewhere in that steeply sloping part of the city in hopes of mandating engineering standards on walls Ivory intends to build along Northpoint Drive next to the F Street locale.
Several council colleagues, however, have contended that rather than fostering safety, seeking to impose those standards seemed to be an indirect attempt to cap the project’s density — an assertion Wharton denied.
“There are properties whose retaining walls were built to the city’s established standard, signed off by engineers and certified after our review, which have failed,” Wharton said, “spilling rocks, dirt and building materials onto the only access road that connects these houses to the rest of the Avenues.”
Rezone gets approved — with conditions
Wharton acknowledged the engineering standards he sought could affect a handful of proposed homes on the north end of Capitol Park Cottages but said his concerns were “not a question of walls vs. density. It’s a question of profitability on those four to five units.”
He then proposed adding engineering review requirements for the retaining walls to a list of other conditions the city has imposed on the project. Council member Amy Fowler supported the move, agreeing “it is a safety issue.”
Fowler added that it was more important to her that none of the homes in the development would be affordable. Wharton’s motion failed, though, on a 4-2 vote, with council member Ana Valdemoros absent.
“I believe we are bending the rules,” west-side council member Alejandro Puy said of the retaining wall standards Wharton desired, “to appease a part of town that just doesn’t want to see any changes and density.”
“This is a very low-density project,” Puy added. “It should be bigger. It should be taller.”
He and council members Dan Dugan, Darin Mano and fellow west-sider, Victoria Petro-Eschler, then voted to approve the rezone, minus Wharton’s request, with Wharton and Fowler voting against it.
Under conditions the council did impose, Ivory cannot construct accessory buildings in the rear yards of homes on the western boundary of the property. Some of the second levels of dwellings on that side the development would need to be set back 30 feet from the property line as well.
The city also is requiring that accessory dwellings in the project not be used as short-term rentals and that a small park planned for the development be open to the public.