In 2017, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood promised a “fight” after the county mayor chose her city for a new homeless shelter that would house and provide services to up to 300 men as early as July 2019.
The mayor says now that she’s long since given up the fight. Still, the project is at the brink of missing a deadline that could lead to the state to step in — which City Council members fear would allow less input from the city — while the mayor and developers disagree over where the roadblocks are coming from.
In a hastily scheduled meeting Wednesday, council members heard from state and other officials who said months of talks with Wood’s administration, but no resolution, has prevented the project’s groundbreaking.
“We’re kind of running up against the time clock on getting this construction commenced so that we can have it completed in time,” said Jonathan Hardy, director of the housing and community development division of the Department of Workforce Services.
Also on Wednesday, The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed that South Salt Lake attempted to entice nearby landowners to give it a chance to buy residents’ land before anyone else, giving a glimpse into the lengths the city went to stonewall a shelter it never asked for.
Developers believe they have to start pouring concrete on the property at 3380 S. 1000 West by no later than June 30 to finish the new shelter in time to meet a state funding deadline in 2019.
Under a law passed in 2017, the shelter at The Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City must close and three new, smaller shelters must open by July 2019. Two other shelters are to be in Salt Lake City and are moving toward construction.
Contractors hope to get started on the South Salt Lake site soon, but they say they need a conditional-use permit from the city’s planning commission. Language in the purchase agreement says that if building doesn’t start by June 30, the state can take over and move ahead with the project anyway.
“Philosophically, we’re almost there,” Hardy said. “But there are details holding us up to getting to the planning-commission process.”
Neither side can agree on what’s preventing that from happening.
Wood says there are problems with the site, including its lack of infrastructure. There are no sidewalks in that area of 1000 West, which largely is an undeveloped inlet.
In its 2018 budget, the Legislature included $1.4 million to build sidewalks and other road improvements to help advance the project.
The city also said it can’t locate the true right-of-way lines because of a discrepancy with county property records. And Wood said the parcel doesn’t have a water line necessary to fight fires.
Mark Murdock of the Gardner Co., a contractor on the project, said developers had resolved the problems mentioned by Wood and Jodi Hoffman, the city’s contract real estate attorney.
“We feel like we’ve worked through the majority of those,” Murdock said.
South Salt Lake has paid Hoffman’s firm, Hoffman Law, more than $108,000 in the current fiscal year, according to state disclosure records.
When Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County’s mayor, announced that he’d chosen South Salt Lake to host the new shelter, Wood said she would go to “battle” over it. On Wednesday, though, she said she has long since moved on from that stance. After the meeting, she said the city was close to agreement with everyone involved.
An agreement would be a stark turnaround from when the city was fighting the project, including with a previously undisclosed attempt at getting nearby homeowners to sell to South Salt Lake, rather than to the county or state.
McAdams, who was required by the 2017 law to choose a shelter site, said the state should buy out the owners if they wanted to leave. Some do.
Last year, two residents confirmed, a city representative approached nearby property owners and offered them $1,000 if they would agree to give the city the opportunity to buy their homes before the state could. The offer hadn’t been publicly disclosed before Wednesday.
Several of the owners are working with a real estate attorney and are seeking enough money for their homes and property to buy new, similar ones elsewhere.
Those owners on Wednesday said they received letters from the county, which is leading the purchase effort. The letters laid out a timeline for getting the property appraised and for eventually buying the land over the course of the next four months, resident Ryann Ringel said.
Wood initially denied that the city gave the $1,000 offers, but she confirmed the campaign after The Salt Lake Tribune corroborated it with property owners.
“That did happen. Back in the fall,” Wood said. “I didn’t remember that.”
It’s not clear what the city would have done if it had the opportunity to undercut the state in buying the land surrounding the shelter site.
“The city wants my property,” said Elaine Jones, 82, who’s lived on two acres for five decades. Her home is across the street from her son’s, and from where the shelter would go.
Jones said she doesn’t expect the county to offer her what she believes her property is worth. She wants enough money to buy a new house and land for her sheep in West Jordan, where property values are higher. She doesn’t plan to stay when the shelter is built.
“Five of us are going to be forced to sell,” Jones said. “I know it’s not going to be a good offer.”
Ringel said she looked forward to working with the county on selling her small urban farm and, eventually, moving, possibly to Colorado. She said the county has been opening up more about the timeline for buying her home.
“The things they’ve been divulging are in line with what Ben McAdams told me when he first showed up at my house when I drilled him and he swore he wanted to create a space of healing” for homeless people, Ringel said.
Meanwhile, several of the neighbors, including Jones, put up signs warning trespassers that they’d be shot on sight.
The sign’s not illegal, Jones said. “Acting on it is illegal.”