City crafts deal for H-Rock Bonneville Shoreline Trail access with developer, but worries about precedent for steep-slope exceptions

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Alarmed East Bench hikers sent a wave of concern through social media last week when an east-bench trailhead near the H-Rock seemed to be closed off.

The trailhead, and that .3 mile section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST) is on private property with no public access easement across it.

Fortunately, solving the access problem is currently on the Planning Division’s front burner.  At the May 22 Planning Commission meeting, the administration and the developer presented a planned development proposal for a three-lot subdivision and conveyance to the city of the trail–and 10 acres of adjacent land. 

The sticking point? The planned development includes allowing the developer to build on slopes 30 degrees or steeper, which is against city code.

Planning Director Nick Norris told the commission that the city currently has other applications for steep-slope development that include similar allowances for building on pitches at 30 degrees or greater. Because exceptions have also been granted in the past, Norris told the commission he needs more time before being confident that the city is being consistent with the standards it’s applying for steep-slope development.

A handful of neighbors spoke at the meeting’s public hearing, with positions ranging from support to worries about erosion. The commission voted to continue the public hearing, and the item is scheduled for the commission’s June 12 meeting.

Let’s take a look at some of the planned development’s details and the deal that was presented to the commission.

Background

The Turville family owns 40 acres of foothills at the end of Lakeline Drive, approximately 2950 East and 1820 South. It hopes to build three single-family homes and a private road on four acres of it, with lot sizes ranging from 51,255 to 67,843 SF. Most of those 40 acres are zoned OS Open Space, with the remainder mostly FR-2 Foothills Residential.

.3 mile of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, as well as a section of Jack’s Peak Trail, are on Turville property without public access easements. The .3 mile of the BST has a Department of Public Utilities water easement under it–which does not include public access rights.

Family representative Adam Turville explained to the commission that the family had a previous subdivision proposal approved in 2001 but never recorded. That proposal sited two much larger lots uphill from the BST, using up open space that is protected in the current planned development.

The new proposal

The planned development and subdivision proposal clusters the residential lots closer together and locates them below the BST, at 1820 and 1822 S. Lakeline Drive, and 1937 and 1939 S. Scenic Drive. 

The trail and 10+ acres above the trail, uphill to the north, would be sold to the city’s Parks and Public Lands division for open space.

The city hopes to build a parking lot and trailhead on a patch of that. 

The catch? Not that the three residential lots do not front a public street, or that one of the lots violates minimum lot width requirements. Rather, it is that two of the lots “include minor portions of their buildable area which include slopes that exceed 30%,” according to the Planning staff report. 

In addition, the private road (to be called Carrigan Rim Court) would include “construction across manmade slopes that exceed 30%.”

Planning staff recommend approval, with a short list of conditions that includes:

  • Minimum 6’ wide trail be provided north of Carrigan Rim Court and to be acceptably engineered so as to not be impacted by water run-off,
  • A geo-technical evaluation related to slope and waterway protections and mitigation be performed prior to building permits being issued, and 
  • Any areas disturbed during construction be revegetated with native plants.

The city has obviously spent a lot of time and effort on crafting this proposal with the applicant. As indicated by this graphic, it has hopes to include more of the Turville parcels in future open space purchases.

Slope concerns

Planning Commissioners seemed pleased with the proposal, and had questions mainly about the enforcement of the public benefits contained therein. 

Members of the public who spoke were all from the neighborhood, and the number of concerns about erosion on the slopes were countered by an equal amount of support for the project. 

Planner Eric Daems drew attention to the slope map, noting that “there are portions on each of these buildable lots, more so on Lot 3, not 2, that are proposed to cross that 30% slope area.” 

Slope map courtesy Ensign Engineering. Red areas are 30% or greater. Black rectangles designate buildable area according to zoning requirements.

“We are concerned about how it could be engineered,” Daems continued, “and the precedent that may set and we want a little bit of time to examine that a little further.”

Meanwhile, property owner Adam Turville responded, “If there’s any concern about setting a precedent, I would just refer back to the purposes of the master plan and the planned development which we’re trying really hard to achieve by preserving the foothills and asking for a slight variation on the downhill slope away from homes and away from the trails.”

“If we were not to have that exception we wouldn’t be able to move the lots to the south to accommodate selling the existing Bonneville Shoreline Trail to Salt Lake City,” Turville argued. “That’s been a request from Salt Lake City Public Lands to bend that part of the property line so that in the future they wouldn’t have to reconstruct the BST further up the hillside because we would have maintained the current BST in private ownership.”

He admitted that the trail would have to “be relocated slightly to the north to accommodate construction of the proposed cul-de-sac.”

A dangerous precedent?

Planners largely left aside the engineering risks of a small amount of the lots’ buildable area being at 30% slope or greater. But the legal risks seem to be another matter.

Norris let the commission know that “There are several potential similar subdivisions elsewhere in the city where the steep slope provision kicks in, where they’re asking for modifications which are fairly significant.”  More research is needed, he said, “to make sure that we’re achieving consistency with decisions that have been made in the past to other subdivisions in similar situations.”

Some of those applications for exceptions are purely administrative, and wouldn’t be coming across the desk of the Planning Commission, Norris noted. “We want to do more research before we move forward, to make sure we’re being consistent.” 

The item will resurface at the Planning Commission’s next meeting on June 12.

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.