Commission approves large mixed-use, mixed-income Central City development

Rendering of the Violin School Commons Development as would be seen from 300 East. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.

More needed affordable housing will soon be underway.  On Wednesday the Salt Lake City Planning Commission unanimously approved with conditions a Planned Development and Preliminary Subdivision request by development partners Cowboy Partners and Form Development for their proposed Violin School Commons project.

The 248 residential unit, mixed-use project will consist of three buildings, two new construction and one adaptive reuse on 2.5 acres at the northeast corner of the 300 East and 200 South intersections.  The project will be mixed-income with 111 affordable units and 137 market rate units.

“We love this neighborhood, we love this place,” said Chris Zarek, a partner at Form Development. “We thought that could certainly use a center and an anchor with open space.”

The three buildings, referred to as the Magnolia, Metropolitan and Liberty Uptown buildings, will be separated by a private street and a public plaza.   While the most visually distinctive feature of the site is arguably the Northwest Pipeline Building, an eight-story midcentury modern midrise tower that was previously the city’s former Public Safety Building, the developers view the proposed Violin School Commons public plaza that will front 200 South as the project’s true centerpiece.  The plaza and project are named after the Violin School across the street on 200 South.

“We turned to the violin school to borrow more of its soul and character,” said Zarek.

The plaza will separate the Metropolitan (formerly the Northwest Pipeline Building) and the Liberty Uptown Building.  The Liberty Uptown will be five stories with a north and south wing that wrap around a parking structure.  The south portion of the building will 200 South with four floors of residential above ground floor retail.  The south portion will open out to the plaza on 200 South.  The north portion will front the private street and will open out to a small courtyard.  The Liberty Uptown will have 109 residential units that will be a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units.

The Metropolitan will be eight stories with ground floor restaurant space.  The Metropolitan will include 74 market-rate residential units.

“The Northwest Pipeline Building was our initial attraction to this project, we love that building and we can’t wait to get our hands on it and rehab it,” said Zarek.

According to Zarek, the developers will consult with Preservation Utah on how to most appropriately restore and convert the Northwest Pipeline Building into a residential development.

The third building, the Magnolia, has been the most controversial for residents as its 65 units will be used as supportive housing for people transitioning out of homelessness.  The design of the proposed six-story building is also visually different from the other two buildings as it features a more historic-looking brick exterior.  The building will also include 1,500 square feet of commercial and social enterprise space for residents and will be managed by the Road Home.

Commission members expressed appreciation for the open space, public plaza, reuse of the Northwest Pipeline Building and the design of the Liberty Uptown.  But several members were concerned about the design of the Magnolia.

“The Magnolia building seems like it dropped in from outer space,” said Commission member Brenda Scheet.  “I don’t think that it is compatible with the building next door to it.  This is an appropriate expression if you want to have a set of buildings that relate to each other in a strong way.”

Scheet recommended that the Magnolia building receive a second look to ensure that it is more compatible with the Metropolitan and Liberty Uptown buildings.

Zarek countered that, while the Magnolia’s design may not relate aesthetically to the adjacent Metropolitan Building, its proposed brick veneer better matches other buildings in the neighborhood.  “You could find three to four other buildings within a block of that building that have a similar style,” he said.

Only two residents spoke during the public hearing, a resident of The Club Condos, a market-rate condominium building directly west of the Magnolia on 300 East and a representative from Preservation Utah.

“We have long been excited about this project,” said David Amott, the preservation programs director for Preservation Utah.  “It offers high-quality public space, mixed housing and, the part we are most excited about, of course, the preservation of the Northwest Pipeline Building.”

The resident of The Club Condos spoke representing the members of the building’s Home Owners Association and voiced concerns about the proposed affordable and supportive housing components in the Violin School Commons development arguing that the neighborhood already has a high rate of subsidized housing.

Despite getting initial approvals, the commission added a condition that will require the developers to return to the planning commission for final approval of revised architectural plans for the project’s ground floor.

The landscaping plans for the Violin School Commons Development. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.
Elevation rendering of the Violin School Commons Development as would be seen from 200 South. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.
Elevation rendering of the Violin School Commons Development as would be seen from 300 East. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at