Ballpark TRAX station area upzone update: city unveils new mixed-use zone

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At last week’s City Council meeting the Planning Division revealed its preferred zoning category for the Fleet Block. Not FB-UN-3 as has been advertised for years, but a mysterious MU-11. Explanation in staff documents was brief, mentioning only that planners have more form-based categories in the works.

Late last week one of those new MU categories was unveiled. MU-8, denoting an 8-story height limit, will be applied to the area around the 1300 South Ballpark TRAX station, replacing the TSA-UN-C zoning previously floated for that part of the area.

Feedback from the neighborhood on that original proposal refocused planners on the importance of ground floor activation, pedestrian-friendly design, as well as the need for public input on large projects.

On Thursday planners responded to those requests with a new proposal at the Ballpark Community Council meeting. Residents heard about increased open- and green-space requirements for new private developments, 10-foot minimum sidewalks, and ground-floor activation requirements.

Let’s look at some of those and other highlights of MU-8 zoning and the adjustments to the previous proposal by the city.

Two main changes

The Station Area rezone is running concurrently with another Planning Division effort at an earlier stage of development: the 300 West Corridor and Central Pointe Station Area Plan.

For the 1300 South Station Area effort, planners emphasized the city’s responsiveness to the concerns they heard in the neighborhood, and were thanked by several attendees at the meeting.

Ballpark Community Council Chair Amy Hawkins, who has advocated strongly for ground-floor active uses, noted to the planners, “it’s so different than what we originally saw.”

First, FB-UN-C is replaced by MU-8.

Second, the city-owned parking lot directly north of the Ballpark facility on 1300 South will not be rezoned until after the Ballpark Next visioning process is complete at the end of 2023.

Use slider to compare existing zoning with latest proposed zoning.

MU-8 is indeed form-based

First off, the MU (Mixed-Use) zone is nothing that SLC policy-watchers haven’t seen before. As Planning Director Nick Norris explained to us, the Fleet Block’s MU-11 is the same as the zone formerly known as FB-UN-3, which allowed up to 11 stories.

The Ballpark’s MU-8 relies significantly on FB-UN-2. Planning Manager John Anderson at the Ballpark Community Council meeting, where the zone was announced, noted that “it is similar to the zoning in Central Ninth.”

The author of the Administration’s proposal, Principal Planner Brooke Olson, writes “The purpose of the district is to provide places for small and large businesses, increase the supply of a variety of housing types in the city, and promote the public health by increasing the opportunity for people to access daily needs by walking or biking.”

The 2019 Ballpark Station Area Plan reconceptualizes West Temple south of the Ballpark facility as a “festival street.”

Planning Director Norris told us that the new MU category “starts to establish a regulatory framework that potentially could be used to develop a range of form-based districts and different scales to replace some of the existing mixed-use and commercial zoning districts.”

True to its form-based nature, the MU-8 zone offers only two types of building form: rowhouse and everything else (“Multi-family Residential, Storefront, Vertical mixed use”). Rowhouses are limited to 40 feet of height, and everything else, 75 feet.

The minimum height for the ground floor everything but rowhouses is 14 feet. One does wonder how eight stories can be squeezed out of 75 feet with that ground floor height requirement.

Ground-floor activation

If a rowhouse is fronting 1300 South or West Temple, it must offer live-work space at the ground floor, not just residential units.

Otherwise, all development in MU-8 is required to have a “a portion of the length of any street-facing building façade on the ground floor of a new principal building, include a permitted or conditional use…”

What that “portion” will be is yet undefined in the proposed ordinance.

The new Downtown Heights and Street Activation ordinance, approved by the City Council in June, requires 75% of building’s ground-floor street frontage “shall be limited to the following uses: retail goods establishments, retail service establishments, public service portions of businesses, restaurants, taverns/brewpubs, bar establishments, art galleries, theaters, or performing art facilities.”

That is the same language proposed for MU-8 in Ballpark. Notably, leasing offices and mail rooms are not listed.

Yet, exceptions are allowed. “This applies to all streets with a right of way that is wider than 66’. This may be modified through the design review process,” says the proposed Design Standards language.

In addition, the proposed Design Standards offer two options for meeting the ground-floor activation requirement. In lieu of meeting all the ground-floor frontage requirements, a developer can reduce the amount of frontage dedicated to active use by providing “visual interest,“ like design elements or art, as well as “increased pedestrian activity through permeability between the building and the adjacent public realm by using niches, bays, gateways, porches, colonnades, stairs or other similar features to facilitate pedestrian interaction with the building.”

Such new language is likely intended as a strengthening of the ground-floor use and design requirements currently found in the city’s TSA zones (which were previously proposed for part of the Ballpark TRAX station area). North Temple and 400 South TSA zones only mandate a “permitted or conditional use” at ground floor. That allows, of course, passive uses that exclude the public like leasing offices, mail rooms, and residential units (when residents typically enter and exit through their off-street parking in the rear).

Sidewalks

10-foot sidewalks will become the standard in front of properties zoned MU-8. It will be interesting to see if the same will be applied to MU zones with lower height allowances.

Whether new developments which sit on different zoning but undergo design review will be required to widen sidewalks to the 10-foot minimum.

The nature of street design—whether people perceive it as dangerous to walk or bike—probably has more do with making the neighborhood walkable than the width of its sidewalks. Yet planning documents do not recommend any meaningful shift away from car dominance for either 1300 South, West Temple, or Main.

Heights

Maximum height for a rowhouse is 40 feet, and for all other building forms, 75 feet. Provisions that require buildings to taper their height down to adjacent zones with lower heights are included.

Courtesy SLC Planning.

Likewise, upper-floor step-backs are required for the upper floors of buildings over five stories.

in addition, any building over 50 feet in height will be required to undergo the design review process. This is in response, planners noted, of the neighborhood’s desire to have input on larger projects.

Although the code’s drawings aspire to a mix of building scales, the code does not prohibit long façade lengths. As in the city’s TSA zones, 200 feet is the maximum. Currently here is no mention of that requirement being open to adjustment through design review, as the TSA zones on North Temple and 400 South allow.

Is this urban form realistic to expect in the MU-8 zone in Ballpark? Image Courtesy SLC Planning.

Rooftop decks are to be allowed, even if the building is at maximum height.

And, of course, parking

The two MU zones that are being currently established—MU-11 and MU-8—have the city’s lowest level of off-street parking requirements. In the “Transit Context,” one of the city’s four parking zones, there are “no parking minimums,” in urban planning jargon. In what is seemingly a move to lower the cost of development and encourage an urban low-car lifestyle, the city is not requiring off-street parking in new projects in the MU-8 zone.

The same is true for several other zones in the proposal (including FB-UN-2 and R-MU).

Developments are also free from providing off-street parking in all the Downtown zones, TSA-Core, as well as G-MU Gateway Mixed-use.

Of course, most developers will be required by financiers to include parking in their projects. But the city isn’t requiring them.

Whether the city can turn Ballpark into a vibrant urban neighborhood depends on the ability of City Hall to steel its resolve in response to opponents like off-street parking advocates, to be sure. But to make no-parking developments work–where families can live without a car–transit, walking, and biking all have to be safe, viable, and integrated.

While planning and zoning only regulates certain elements of this larger picture, it’s still debatable whether the current proposal can meet the actual demands of the walkable environment it aspires to. We will start to see the changes soon.

Email Luke Garrott

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.