Letter: Increase affordable housing by focusing on new, multi-unit construction, rather than altering historic neighborhoods

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction workers at the site of Liberty Townhouse Apartments located at 500 South and 700 East, Sept. 17, 2019.

The Tribune recently published a commentary by Utah Foundation president Peter Reichard in support of rezoning areas currently zoned for single-family housing to allow for building up to four-family units in an “overlay zone.” The Salt Lake City Planning Commission has also published an “Affordable Housing Incentives” document. Two different parties talking about the same issue?

A realtor from a neighborhood targeted in the document verified that the average sales price there for a single-family home in the last 180 days was $631,000. I agree that affordable housing is a concern. Look at the thousands of high-rise housing units built in Sugar House within the past several years (in a quick drive-by I counted 12 of them) with at least three more to come that are in planning or construction stages. The chairman of the land use and zoning committee verified that only around 150 units total in those dozen or more buildings qualify as “affordable.” Why is that? Certainly a missed opportunity.

The need is there, but allowing fourplexes on existing lots in the proposed area is frightening. These homes were built in the early 1900s. These historical lots are small with most ranging in size from a 37.5′ frontage to a 50′ frontage. A few larger lots have a 100′ frontage. The only way a 37.5′ lot could accommodate a fourplex is to demolish the existing historical home and build vertically lot line to lot line. Neighbors would live in constant shade and driveways would be iced over most of the winter. Backyard privacy would cease to exist. This neighborhood is known for an abundance of older trees. I assume all but those on the park strip would need to be removed to accommodate the larger buildings. I thought Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall’s goal was to increase the urban forest, not cut it down.

Infrastructure is also a concern. Sewer pipes are aged and rotting. They may be unable to handle the increased capacity required. Our power lines are above ground and also aging. Parking on these old, narrow streets is also an issue. I have seen the snow plow back up in the middle of the block because it couldn’t make it through the cars. A fourplex will generate additional street parking no matter what the regulations are. Many don’t conform to parking restrictions now.

I recommend you target new, multi-unit construction to increase affordability rather than demolish a perfectly good but historic home in order to create a one-at-a-time fix. Increase affordable units when granting building permits for the ever-increasing number of high rises in the Salt Lake City area.

Renae Richards, Salt Lake City

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