Developer wins appeal to build shorter project in Downtown zone

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A project that would be shorter than the new minimum height for buildings in the Downtown core can move ahead as proposed, according to a ruling by an appeal officer who reversed the commission’s vote. 

The ruling was a win for J. Fisher Companies, the Centerville-based developer looking to build a project at 250 S. 200 E. in Central City.

The Planning Commission voted to deny the project in December, viewing it as a test of the city’s new 100-foot minimum height requirement for new buildings in the Downtown zone. Commissioners feared voting in favor of J. Fisher’s proposed 83-foot building would set a precedent that other developers would follow.

But in debating the matter, the commission failed to consider that city code specifically allows for shorter buildings in the Downtown (D1) zone through design review, and therefore the project is approved and can be built.

“Because the Commission did not follow the method of analysis set forth in the ordinance, the denial of the application failed to give the property owner the benefit of the law as written,” appeals hearing officer Mary Woodhead wrote in her decision.

Planning Director Nick Norris confirmed the reversal means J. Fisher can move ahead to obtain a building permit and construct the building as proposed after over five years of trying.

In part, Woodhead, who previously served on the Planning Commission, took issue with the motion to deny the project, and the fact that city ordinance specifically allows for buildings Downtown to be shorter than the minimum height if other criteria are met.

“At no time did the commissioners voicing disapproval of the proposed plan acknowledge the manner in which the City’s ordinances specifically allowed for a lower height in the Downtown District if certain conditions were met, in spite of the language favoring density and intensity in the downtown plan,” Woodhead wrote.

By reversing the decision, Woodhead is also allowing a building that will more than double the maximum street facade length of 150 feet along 200 East. J. Fisher intends to build a structure that stretches 307 feet, or nearly half a Salt Lake City block.

J. Fisher will also be allowed to use less than the required amount of glass on the building’s ground floor and upper levels as a result of the decision.

“The design review process is not to determine strict compliance with the Master Plans and other zoning rules but rather to allow consideration if a project should go forward even though it is non-compliant in some ways,” Woodhead wrote. “By specifically providing that buildings below the minimum building height in the D1 District are subject to Planning Commission review, the City’s ordinance anticipates that a lower height building might be approved if it is otherwise consistent with the applicable master plans and provides other design benefits as set forth in the ordinance.” 

J. Fisher said it plans to build a mid-block walkway that would be activated by lighting, art and multiple small-scale retail shops between 200 East to Edison Street. It also plans two retail spaces that Fisher identified as restaurants facing 200 East.

The approval shows the power of a position that is appointed by the mayor and affirmed by City Council. 

Woodhead previously wrote the decision to confirm the Planning Commission’s vote to deny the proposed gas station on private land next to Sugar House Park last year.

At its hearing on March 5, the Council unanimously approved two new appeals hearing officers by affirming Aaron McKnight and Clayton Preece. Woodhead’s term ends in October.

Development Details

  • Developer: J. Fisher Companies
  • Architect: Dwell Design Studio

Email Taylor Anderson

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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.