As the city fights its way out of a housing shortage, there will be increasing tension in the density debate as residents and local officials reevaluate appropriate building heights in some of the city’s fastest-growing neighborhoods.
This debate has long been underway in Sugar House and is actively underway in the Central Ninth neighborhood as local developers Urban Alfandre, seek to redevelop the long-vacant, former Henries Dry Cleaner property at the southwest corner of the 900 South and 200 West intersection, the heart of the Central Ninth neighborhood.
The developers plan to build two mixed-use buildings on nearly 1.5 acres at the south side of 900 South between 200 West and Washington Street. The properties are in the FB-UN2 (Form Based Urban Neighborhood District) zoning district that allows for building heights up to 50 feet, or four stories with key intersections within the zoning district allowed to build up to 65 feet, or five stories.
The Henries parcel is in the additional height overlay, but the developers are asking the city for a zoning text amendment to extend a height overlay to the southeast corner of 900 South and Washington Street (the current site of Chuckles Bar and a single-family home), allowing both buildings to be up to five stories.
Despite its prominent location in the neighborhood, the property has sat vacant for several years because the ground is polluted from previous uses making it a costly endeavor for any developer willing to take the project on.
“It is a very complicated site,” said James Alfandre, managing partner of Urban Alfandre. “We know it’s been a blight on the neighborhood for a long time.”
On Thursday, September 6, Alfandre presented his vision for the Henries site to the Ballpark Community Council. Alandre told the council that the additional floor for the western building is necessary as the land contamination makes building subterranean parking too costly.
Alandre argued that because of a natural slope the parcels to the south of the Henries property are contaminated and will need to be remediated before any construction can begin. Instead of a subterranean parking structure, the developers plan to build mezzanine parking to free up the ground space for retail. Alfandre argued that the extra floor would provide another 10 to 15 additional units which would make the mezzanine parking financially feasible.
Under the FB-UN2 zone, developers do not need to include any off-street parking. But Urban Alfandre plans to have an average parking ratio of 0.9 stalls per residential unit across both buildings. Alfandre argues that because of the land contamination, the project cannot locate any residential units on the ground floor, meaning only non-residential uses like commercial space, residential amenities or structured parking could occupy the street level.
For the developers, ground floor retail featuring carefully curated local businesses, similar to the nearby Central Ninth Market, is the only really viable use for the project’s ground level and that without the extra floor, the developers would need to place parking at the street level.
“This will really add to that node where the TRAX Station is,” said Alfandre. “We don’t want to use that valuable land for cars.”
According to Alfandre, the project’s residential units will all be market rate, as he noted that the neighborhood already has a high amount of traditionally affordable housing. The developers plan to have the units be slightly smaller than what is traditionally built to make them more affordable to the younger residents that are drawn to Central Ninth. The units will range in size from 350 to 390-square-feet studios to 1100-square-feet two bedroom apartments.
In addition to ground-floor retail along 900 South and 200 West, the developers want to activate the alley that bisects the properties with retail and plaza space. “Retail is critical to blending these buildings together,” said Alfandre.
In August the Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted to forward a negative recommendation for the zoning text amendment. Despite the negative recommendation, the developers could still get the extra floor they want if the Salt Lake City Council approves their request in the coming weeks.
The developers appear to have support from the Ballpark Community Council. In a straw poll at their September meeting residents overwhelming voted in support of the project with zero votes against the project and a few undecided votes.