With land running out, Utah city seeks to ban most new apartments in key commercial zones

Ogden mayor, planners say too many multifamily dwellings are being built in areas that don’t support healthy neighborhoods.

When it comes to housing, Ogden’s picture is flipped compared to other cities along the Wasatch Front.

Its residential mix skews heavily toward mid-rise apartments, city officials say, and many of them have gone up in areas lacking in walkable streets, park spaces, grocery stores, schools, bike lanes and other amenities vital to supporting a quality neighborhood. Available land for future homes and businesses of all types, meanwhile, is running out.

Against that backdrop, Ogden has another 2,550 mid-rise apartment units under review, approved or headed to construction, compared to 797 low-rise apartments and town homes, and some 83 single-family homes, according to permitting records.

“That’s our housing crisis,” said Ogden Planning Manager Barton Brierley. “We don’t have enough land to accommodate the needs for single-family housing, and that’s not a healthy way to develop a community. You need a good mix of everything.”

In a move backed by first-term Mayor Ben Nadolski, Ogden is seeking to limit new multifamily housing construction — apartments, row houses and duplexes — in several of its main commercial zones. The idea drew a generally positive reception late Wednesday in an initial public airing, though the proposed ordinance got sidetracked for additional tweaks.

Developers raised concerns to the city’s planning commission that the proposal might stifle much-needed affordable housing in some areas and create a zoning loophole in favor of larger out-of-town builders able to finance block-size apartment complexes downtown.

“We’re on the right track, but if we approve this as drafted tonight, we’ll be missing the boat,” said commission member Rick Southwick before a 5-1 vote to table the proposed revisions.

Southwick, who is a real estate agent, called for more fine-tuning in an August meeting before sending the plan to the City Council for approval “so we’re not going with such a broad stroke that we eliminate some attractive housing options.”

Commission member Jeremy Shinoda was the lone vote against delaying the measure, saying he was comfortable moving forward with it as written.

Mayor says move is data-driven

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ogden Mayor Ben Nadolski speaks at a debate at Weber State University in October 2023.

In its latest form, the text amendment would curb multifamily dwellings in the city’s C-2 and C-3 zones, which primarily straddle sections of its main north-south arterials such as Wall Avenue and Washington Boulevard in areas north of 18th Street and south of 27th Street, as well as along 12th Street and Harrison Boulevard.

The proposed ban carves out exceptions for senior housing; dwellings close to the OGX rapid-transit bus line along Harrison; and mixed-use projects spanning at least 10 acres that devote 75% of their ground floor space to nonresidential uses.

In a statement announcing the move, Nadolski, who took office in January, said the goal is “to provide diverse and balanced housing options across housing types, locations, and affordability levels.”

Ogden’s zoning strategies in recent years, the mayor said, have made it an attractive market for rental developments, but the approach has also spawned housing shortages in some areas and excessive build-outs of apartments in others.

“The data,” Nadolski said, “shows that our citizens need and want to buy single-family homes, especially first-time homebuyers.”

Where do apartments ‘make sense’?

(Ogden City) A map showing where mid-rise apartments are currently allowed in Ogden. Officials are seeking to limit multifamily construction in commercial zones in a move aimed at rebalancing its housing stock.

City spokesperson Mike McBride said the revisions would still leave ample land elsewhere to meet Ogden’s projected demand for low-rise and mid-rise apartments through 2050.

The city is also in the process of updating its general plan, McBride added, and that could include additional zoning changes designed to rebalance the mix and locale of its housing stock. That’s in part why the proposed ordinance is being called a “temporary measure.”

“What we’re seeing now is an influx of apartments and multifamily structures being built in spaces that don’t have the appropriate amenities to support them, such as sidewalks, parks or shops,” he said. “We’re just saying, ‘Build those apartments in places that make the most sense right now.’ "

McBride and the mayor said the proposed ordinance change was being advanced in coordination with wider state moves under Gov. Spencer Cox that emphasize creating more homeownership opportunities over rental construction.

Utah recently launched a $300 million initiative to spur construction of thousands of new starter homes affordable to first-time buyers.

“Our mayor,” McBride said, “is absolutely in lockstep with what the state is trying to do.”

Red flags over affordability

(Ogden Planning Division / Wasatch Front Regional Council) Demand for single-family homes in Ogden is expected to far outstrip apartments over the next 25 years, officials say.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Brierley, the city planning manager, said the proposed curb on apartments in commercial zones wasn’t focused on boosting single-family homebuilding, per se.

“We’re doing that through other means,” he said, pointing to three new town home developments, also under review Wednesday, that had been encouraged by the city’s incentives for more infill construction.

“We do need apartments. We do need town homes. And we need single-family,” Brierley said. “What we’re addressing here is that housing should be in safe, stable and revitalized neighborhoods.”

Land for commercial uses such as shopping and restaurants is also in high demand in Ogden’s downtown, he said, and limiting apartments in commercial zones could also guide land use toward helping meet some of that.

Senior housing is being exempted from the commercial-zone ban, according to city planners, due to an even more dire need for it across Ogden — and the thought that older residents are less reliant on some amenities such as sidewalks, trails and bike lanes.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Downtown Ogden on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023.

The ordinance would still allow mixed-use apartment complexes above 10 acres that devote enough ground-floor spaces to retail, food, personal services and common areas.

Several residents raised flags Wednesday over that provision, saying it threatened to cut off a spate of innovative smaller and midsize residential project surfacing from developers as Ogden continues to grapple with a house shortage.

“That’s way too big,” said resident and housing advocate Nick Milford. “By requiring that minimum lot size, you’re basically pricing out all but the very largest and richest developers who can afford to build an entire neighborhood as one big development.”

The developer of a 72-unit, deeply affordable housing project on Washington Boulevard warned that the city’s move might jeopardize that project — as well as close off options for vulnerable residents with the greatest need for housing.

“I really want you to consider what it takes to keep people housed in Ogden,” said Keith Warburton. “We’ve got a lot of people on the street and reducing housing makes it more difficult for them.”