Council considers changes to city’s form-based code

Example of the proposed setbacks and stepbacks. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.

Fours years in and Salt Lake City officials are still finding their comfort level with formed-based code.  During a Tuesday work session, planning staff updated Salt Lake City Council members on proposed amendments to the Form Based Urban Neighborhood 2 (FB-UN2) zone that would increase building setbacks, stepbacks and design standards within the zoning district.

The proposed amendments are a result of a petition initiated by the council in 2016 during the adoption process of Sugar House Streetcar Corridor Master Plan.  The Sugar House plan made parcels along the S-Line streetcar the second neighborhood in the city to have a form-based zoning code.  The city adopted form-based zoning in the Central Ninth neighborhood in 2013.

During the public hearing process for the Streetcar Corridor plan, residents complained about the impact of zoning changes that would allow for increased height and density adjacent to lower-density residential areas.  Council suggested changing required setbacks to reduce the impact of new development on neighboring single-family homes.

Only two neighborhoods currently have FB-UN2 zoning, the Central Ninth neighborhood and the Trolley Square parcels directly south of Trolley Square on 600 South.  Under the FB-UN2 zone, developers can build up to 50 feet and currently setbacks are only required when a project is adjacent to parcels zone Form Based Urban Neighborhood 1 (FB-UN1), which limits building height to about 2.5 floors in height.

The zoning proposed amendments would require rear and interior yard setbacks and building stepbacks for FB-UN2 parcels adjacent to zoning districts that cap the allowable building height at 35 feet.  The type of setbacks and stepbacks required would be based on the type of development. For cottage homes, interior yard setbacks would be required to be at least 4 feet and rear yard setbacks will bet set at a 20-foot minimum.  Townhomes and Multifamily developments will be required to have a 15-foot interior yard setback and a 25-foot and 20-foot rear yard setback respectively.  Multifamily buildings will need to have a building stepback of 1 foot for every foot the building height surpasses 30 feet.

The FB-UN2 zoning does not require minimum front yard setbacks and caps allowable setbacks to 10 feet.  Several council members were concerned about how alleyways would impact developments within the FBUN2 zones.  Developers can construct alleyways as a means to comply with interior yard setbacks, but those alleyways would be part of the development and would be under the control of the property owner.  If an alleyway is legally a public street developers can build up to the property line on that alleyway, but they would be required to add curbs and gutters to any portion of the alleyway that fronts their property.

“What a shame to inhibit good development in areas that have this FB-UN2 zoning, which generally are ripe for development, because we’ve got some uncared for streets that are really alleyways,” said Council member Erin Mendenhall.

Apart from setbacks and stepbacks the zoning amendments would also further clarify design standards by capping a building’s allowable street frontage to 200 feet in length, limiting parking uses along a public street to 25 percent of the street façade and requiring balconies or 15-foot stepbacks for taller buildings at the 30-foot mark.

Presently only the parcels that would be affected by the proposed zoning amendments would be the Trolley Square parcels.  The FB-UN2 parcels in the Central Ninth neighborhood are surrounding by FB-UN1 zoned parcels and already have similar setback and stepback requirements.

The proposed changes would also impact future FB-UN2 zones.  As part of the Growing SLC draft housing plan, city officials are exploring adding more form-based zones to city neighborhoods as a means of increasing the housing supply.  The housing plan is still in the draft stage and will go before the City Council for adoption at a later date.

City Council will hold a public hearing for the FB-UN2 zoning amendments during their September 5 formal meeting.

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