Ballpark upzone proposal major step in transformation of area

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The Salt Lake City Planning Division has released its zoning-change proposal for the area to the east of the 1300 South/Ballpark TRAX station. And it’s bold.

It’s also big – the biggest in terms of acreage and density since the 2010 rezoning of what is now known as the North Temple transit corridor.

The most-dense transit station area zoning in the city’s playbook (TSA-UN-C) is proposed to be applied to three and a half blocks that reside to the east and south of the TRAX station at 200 West and 1300 South. Central Ninth’s most generous zoning (FB-UN-2) is also features prominently in the proposal.

The area to the west of the station, not included in the Ballpark station area plan, is currently being addressed in the city’s 300 West corridor and station area planning effort. 300 West is increasing becoming a destination for multi-family residential development and is zoned General Commercial (CG).

With CG, along with Commercial Corridor (CC) zoning – also abundant in Ballpark – the city has created a car-first environment that it is currently trying to ameliorate.

Community members are being encouraged to comment on the proposal. The official window for public input has been open since June 2 and closes July 17.

Some of those comments, specifically from the chair of the neighborhood’s community council, are drawing attention to the proposal’s lack of public green space and ground floor activation requirements.

Let’s take a look at the proposal, its context, and some comments.

The context – an empty stadium and little park space

The city-owned ballpark facility, currently known as Smith’s Ballpark, will be without its major tenant, the Salt Lake Bees, as soon as 2025.

To fill that space, the city ran a competition (called BallparkNEXT) with cash prizes for post-baseball conceptual redesign of the park. Not placing any priority on those crowdsourced designs, the city is currently preparing a request for developer qualifications and proposals for the site’s future.

In addition, the City Library is purchasing property at West Temple and 1400 South. Building Salt Lake broke the news of a Ballpark library branch in November.

The area is severely lacking parks and green space, by the city’s own inventory. It falls well below the current average for park space per capita across the city – yet the Ballpark Station Area Plan is less than enthusiastic to designate parks as a future land use.

Future park space is limited to a rather ridiculous narrow along the embankment of UDOT’s off-ramp at 950 South and a speculative reuse of the Leroy Hooten Public Utilities site at 1530 S West Temple.

The city hasn’t found or funded a new site for the Public Utilities department (water and streetlights), so any near- or even medium-term transformation of that >12 acre property into green space is unlikely.

When asked for response, the Planning department didn’t contradict the plan’s indifference to expanding park space. Brooke Olson, planner on the project, when asked about the parks deficit, rather cynically commented “Parks are permitted uses within all of the City’s zoning districts. Property does not have to be specifically zoned open space for a park to be established.”

Why not designate the city-owned parking lot at West Temple and 1300 South as public space, just across the street to the north from the ballpark? That’s a question for the consultants yet to be hired, Olson told us. “Whether or not a park is considered for city-owned land within the area proposed to be rezoned will be determined as part of the next steps in the Ballpark Next process.” 

The upzone proposal

The city’s purposes behind the proposal are “to implement the goals, policies, future land use recommendations, and community vision established in the plan.”

One of the first implementation strategies in the station area plan is to “update the City’s zoning code and map as appropriate to implement the provisions of the plan.”

Here’s the area’s current zoning. The hatched red right-center is CC, Commercial Corridor.

Courtesy SLC Planning.

And here’s the city’s proposed zoning:

Notice that the Nate Wade dealership on 1300 South and Main, and a small lot to the north are the only car lots that are proposed to be rezoned. The Ballpark station area plan leaves the Main Street ghetto of surface parking lots for car dealerships mostly untouched. And not surprisingly, so does the rezone proposal.

Ironically, the “Main Street Character Area,” according to the plan, is defined by “the presence of small local businesses, a generally pleasant pedestrian and bike environment, and medium-density residential buildings. New development should focus on maintaining the scale, walkability, and bikability of the neighborhood.”

On the 1000 and 1100 South blocks of Main, this is the land use that SLC Planning continues to endorse. Image courtesy Google.

If that “generally pleasant pedestrian and bike environment” along Main St. actually exists, it’s likely due to car dealerships being enormously successful at killing life on the street. According to current city plans, they’ll be able to continue their anti-urbanism in south Downtown.

Community council leadership: Not NIMBY

In an email to Building Salt Lake, Ballpark Community Council Chair Amy Hawkins drew our attention, not to the trauma and violation to the neighborhood to be caused as a result of the rezone, but to the proposal’s shortcomings on several urban design standards.

Public comments are yet to be compiled by city planning staff, but Hawkins’ responses – which she emphasized were not the official position of the council due a lack of meetings during summertime—give a glimpse of the tenor likely to come from Ballpark community leadership.

Hawkins’ comments drew attention to city policies expressed in documents like the 2019 Parks and Public Land Needs Assessment that states “The Ballpark neighborhood has limited green spaces and community amenities within its boundaries” and acknowledges that “community amenities including parks, open space, and other community facilities such as a library or community center was identified during the community engagement process.” 

Hawkins wrote to us, “Page after page of the Ballpark Station Area Plan indicate in words and graphics that support Salt Lake City’s 2019 Parks Assessment: ‘Find creative solutions to enhance greenspace in the neighborhood’.” And to her point, it’s not there.

In addition, Hawkins drew our attention to the lack of ground-floor street activation required in TSA zoning. “Another major concern we discussed at our last Ballpark Community Council Board meeting is the amount of TSA zoning proposed for the neighborhood when there is no genuine requirement for ground floor activation of the space.”

Blocks of empty leasing offices and mail rooms are going to do nothing to activate the ground floor of West Temple and 1300 South—or any blocks that are proposed to be zoned TSA in Ballpark.”

Next steps

The public comment period is closes soon, July 17. But both the Planning Commission and the City Council will be briefed and holding public hearings on the changes.

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.