Holladay • The public has weighed in twice on a new development plan for the old Cottonwood Mall site.
Now it’s up to the Holladay Planning Commission to decide whether to endorse the proposal by Ivory Homes and Woodbury Corp. to revise an approved-but-dormant plan for the 56-acre parcel. The companies want to proceed with something new that they think will work — a resident-oriented mixed-use development that would allow for an office building up to 13 stories high on the southeastern corner of 4800 South and Highland Drive.
Planning commissioners will take up the proposal again Tuesday, confining their deliberations to questions for staffers and developers about technical points in the 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 4580 S. 2300 East.
They won’t accept more public comment before making a recommendation to the Holladay City Council, having heard from many people in a Nov. 21 hearing that overflowed their City Hall chambers and in a follow-up session Dec. 12 that attracted more than 250 people to St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.
Most speakers at the two meetings opposed the requested changes, disliking the proposed density of the residential area (more than 1,000 apartments, 75 brownstones and townhouses, and 107 single-family homes) and the possibility of a building or two up to 136 feet high on the northern end, where office space and retail operations are planned.
But planning commissioners also heard at the second meeting from six project advocates, people who felt it was time to clean up the weed patch that’s flourished there since the venerable mall was torn down in 2008.
They also maintained that having respected local developers behind the project gives them confidence that it will be done well, benefiting nearby businesses that have struggled through the many years of the mall’s decline and demolition.
“No one can dispute that the eyesore on the landscape needs to be changed,” said Gordon Johnson, son-in-law of the late Sid Horman, the developer who built the Cottonwood Mall in 1961. Johnson owns the strip mall adjacent to the demolished shopping center, north of Murray-Holladay Road.
“Many existing merchants have been struggling because there is a lack of a tasteful mix of enterprises that complement one another to generate business,” he added, saying the mall’s absence has curtailed his ability to recruit new tenants.
But many speakers concurred with Locust Lane resident Lois Hintze, who sought a denial of the proposal largely because allowing a 136-foot-tall building would “fail to preserve natural scenic views [of Mount Olympus] that make Holladay special.”
Ivory Development President Chris Gamvroulas tried to undercut that argument, emphasizing to the commission that the new proposal does not differ dramatically from the previously approved concept. Where it differs, he maintained, the plan has been improved.
The approved but never implemented 2007 plan allowed 90-foot buildings over 71 percent of the parcel, he said. In the new plan, 29 percent of the land could have buildings of that height, and 13 percent would be eligible for the 136-foot maximum.
“We want to take advantage of the hard corner and provide some really great office space,” Gamvroulas said, adding: “If we can push square footage up in a small area, we can keep it down elsewhere. We’re trying to avoid 90-foot buildings that come all the way across [the Highland Drive frontage] without visual relief.”
Business partner Mack Woodbury, manager of due diligence for Woodbury Corp., followed up with photographs of towers comparable in height to those proposed here, including the 175-foot-tall Bonneville Tower at 777 E. South Temple.
Opened in 1964, he said, “it has provided a dynamic place to live for 50 years. It’s part of the community. You can barely see it above the house lines from 1,000 feet away.”
Gamvroulas also said a major reduction in the project’s commercial space will reduce traffic by 25 percent from what was projected in 2007 and almost 50 percent from what the mall generated in its heyday. And he said the residential units built there — which would increase from 614 a decade ago to 1,255 in this plan — would be far more energy efficient than most housing in Holladay.
Skeptics weren’t convinced.
Paul Baker, a member of the Holladay Citizens for Responsible Development opposition group, challenged the legitimacy of Ivory Co.’s traffic numbers, suspecting that they don’t take into account how much the valley’s population has grown since those earlier studies.
He asked the city to prepare an independent traffic study and to look at the project’s potential impact in encouraging commuters to cut through city neighborhoods to avoid logjams on major roadways.
“Cut-through traffic is historically an issue in Holladay,” Baker said. “This will provide more incentive than ever to cut through neighborhoods. More cars mean greater risks, and just one additional accident is too many.”
Linda Scott said the planning commission needed to consider the impact of all these additional residences on the area’s public school populations, while Dennis Roach criticized the plan’s lack of open space for residents’ recreation.
“I don’t want acres for soccer fields that would cost city maintenance fees,” he said. “But if there are some open spaces, it would help families. There are no places for children to play.”
Holladay should not honor its prior pledge to give the developer an incentive to build the project — a rebate of 75 percent of the new sales taxes generated from the site over the next 20 years, up to $52 million — because of the project’s orientation switch from commercial to residential, said resident Tim Schimandle.
“That [incentive] made sense with commercial [properties] that generate taxes and don’t require many services. But that’s no longer viable with the project’s shift to residential,” he said, predicting that Holladay will end up with a budget shortfall of $1.5 million or with levying a 10 percent tax increase. “It’s not tenable to strain the city’s budget to line the pockets of some of the most successful people in our community.”
Instead, Schimandle encouraged the city to limit all buildings to three stories, require brick facades to make them inviting to people, allow no residential lots smaller than one-third of an acre and include a contiguous 7-acre park around the community.
“This may sound ridiculous,” he said, “but if we’re not getting what we want from this, why should we be paying for it?”
The project had its backers, too.
Taft Price said the only people whose views of Mount Olympics will be negatively affected are those coming out of a liquor store and fast-food restaurant nearby. He’s pleased that “they’re finally doing something with that thing that looks like an abandoned strip mine. I’m surprised by the number of smart people who don’t see it the way I do.”
Former legislator Pat Jones said she was comfortable with the project because the Ivory and Woodbury companies are involved. “I would love to see this eyesore taken care of,” she said. “It’s embarrassing when we bring friends here.”
Added Larry Henkels, whose demolition company tore down the Cottonwood Mall for its then-owner, General Growth Properties: “This project will give options for other people to experience the great things in Holladay we’ve been lucky to take in. The only thing I’m expecting from Holladay is due diligence. Get it done right. I don’t want to see a hole here five years from now.”