300-foot buildings in Sugar House? That’s one developer’s idea

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The Chicago-based development firm seeking to redevelop the Wells Fargo building in Sugar House wants to rewrite a portion of the zoning code to allow Downtown heights in the neighborhood’s urban core.

Harbor Bay Ventures has proposed rezoning the property to allow the firm to build a mixed-use structure on the site, according to the applications that would rezone the property, amend the Sugar House urban core zoning and change the neighborhood’s master plan to allow for taller mass timber buildings.

In its applications, Harbor Bay proposed creating a new zone for the neighborhood that would allow buildings up to 305 feet tall as long as they include a majority of sustainable materials. The new zone would be known as CSHBD — SUS, Sugar House Business District – Sustainability District.

Two Harbor Bay representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment to confirm whether the firm wants to build a high-rise at 1095 E. 2100 S. But a conceptual rendering included in the rezone application shows Harbor Bay may be looking to build what would be by far the tallest building in Utah outside of Downtown.

The conceptual rendering appears to show a 34-story high-rise that would include substantial space for retail below residential.

A conceptual drawing included in a rezone proposal by Harbor Bay appears to show a high-rise at 1095 E. 2100 S.

Harbor Bay is known for its focus on buildings made from mass timber, a new style that uses cross-laminated wood can be as structurally strong as steel and concrete yet more environmentally efficient.

The firm build a 505,000-square-foot mixed-use building in Cleveland that was the largest mass timber project in the nation when it opened last year.

When the Wells Fargo building sold in January, Harbor Bay was said to be eyeing what would be among the largest mass timber buildings in the world, possibly passing 200 feet in height.

Representatives familiar with the sale said it fetched dozens of offers, with Harbor Bay paying more per square foot for the property than almost any other commercial real estate buyer in Utah history.

It was clear the firm couldn’t achieve its rumored desired height under existing zoning regulations, so it wasn’t clear how it would get permission to build a tower on the site that’s currently home to a two-story bank until now.

Buildings in the CSHBD1 district, which currently allows the highest density of residential buildings outside Downtown, can be up to 105 feet tall. Developers have taken advantage of that height allowance only one time.

While the new documents don’t make it clear that Harbor Bay is hoping to erect a skyscraper in Sugar House, the details of the proposed new zone may shed light on its possible plans.

Under the proposed CSHBD–SUS zone, proposed buildings could exceed 105 feet if they meet at least three of seven requirements that generally offer benefits to the public.

Among those requirements, buildings within 1,500 feet of light rail could exceed the existing 105-foot height restriction for Sugar House.

The apparent conceptual rendering included in one of the documents shows the building’s residential tower would be west of 1100 East, likely putting it within 1,500 feet of the proposed radius to allow the tallest buildings.

Other proposed requirements include setting aside privately owned, publicly accessible space; preserving historic buildings; including more active ground floor retail or other public space within the building; adding a mid-block walkway; using only electric utilities within the building; and including at least one public parking space for every 1,000 square feet of commercial space.

Those requirements are in addition to the stipulations that at least 65 percent of the building’s structural materials be made of mass timber or other sustainable materials and that new buildings within the proposed zone must be meet other sustainability certifications.

The conceptual rendering included in Harbor Bay’s materials depicts a broad platform that would be pedestrian-oriented, which would extend the retail offerings at what is the epicenter of the Sugar House shopping and urban housing district.

The rendering was attributed to the Chicago-based Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, which specializes in high-rise and mass timber buildings.

That type of construction would resemble much of the urban construction in Vancouver, British Columbia, where tall, skinny high-rise buildings sit on platforms that are approachable to people strolling by at ground level.

Such a proposal is certain to cause a commotion among a public that has clamored about the changes occurring in the neighborhood.

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.