City Council approves mid-density apartments in largely single-family Liberty Wells

A third-acre property in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Wells neighborhood has received a zoning change more typical for urban areas after the City Council approved a moderate-density development this week.

The proposal rankled some neighbors, who suggested this portion of the historical neighborhood shouldn’t include more multi-family housing.

But the seven-unit rental project shows the ways in which density will come to neighborhoods throughout the capital city, as Utah continues its decade of population growth and subsequent housing development. It also shows the council’s willingness to approve new housing, especially if it adds units for low- or moderate-income residents.

Peter Corroon, former Salt Lake County mayor, asked for a rezone so he could build seven housing units on the property. The previous zoning — RMF-35, which allows for what the city considers moderate density — would have limited him to five units.

The new zoning type — form-based urban neighborhood or FB-UN1 — requires no parking, though Corroon agreed to provide at least eight parking spaces in the project.

“In light of the housing needs of Salt Lake City and, specifically, the Liberty Wells neighborhood, Sentry concluded that a slightly larger project (seven units instead of five) with smaller, more affordable units, would be a much better use of the Property,” Corroon wrote in documents recently submitted for review by the planning commission.

It is also the lowest-density form-based code the city has, allowing 2 ½ stories and 4 units per lot, in a typical townhome-intensity density.

The two entryways fronting 400 East in the eventual development will be required to provide features like a porch or stoop with canopy, to keep the designs engaging with the street.

Residents’ primary entrances also must face the streets — 400 East and Cleveland.

Salt Lake City Planning will have final approval over the final designs of the project before it’s built.

The Liberty Wells Community Council supported the proposed change. Still, other residents in the neighborhood had organized in opposition, suggesting Liberty Wells is for single-family homes.

Historically, that has been true, as Liberty Wells was originally designed as a streetcar suburb away from Downtown.

But with a booming population in Salt Lake City, most neighborhoods will ultimately become denser. There are also dozens of multi-family properties near the property at 1430 S. 400 East.

The property is also located in the middle of several blocks that allow multi-family residential housing. Any property with at least 0.2 acres is allowed three units if other conditions are met under RMF-35 zoning.

Liberty Wells is largely zoned single-family, yet there’s a stretch that allows for mid-density housing by right. A developer is planning to add seven units to a 0.33-acre parcel that was rezoned from RMF-35 to FB-UN1. Salt Lake City Planning Division.

Still, the properties immediately surrounding Corroon’s parcel are either duplexes or single-family residences. 

One-bedroom units would be 673 square feet and 1,341 square feet for three-bedroom units. Rent is expected to start at $1,000 for a one-bedroom or $2,200 for a three-bedroom.

“Although not affordable by everyone, these rental prices fall within the affordability range for potential tenants at approximately 80%o to 100% of Area Median Income,” Corroon wrote in the application. 

That means anyone making between $44,800 to about $60,000 without spending more than 30 percent of their monthly earnings on housing costs. And while the city (and region) needs housing that’s affordable to low-income renters, it also needs housing for all income brackets.

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.