Developers wanted to build eight townhomes in Liberty Wells. After pushback, they’ll have to try again.

Developers conceded they may have stretched too far when asking to build up to 45-foot townhomes on a site once home to a historic mansion in Liberty Wells.

Members of the Planning Commission agreed, nearly voting against the project before giving the applicant another chance to work with the city to get a proposal right based on feedback from the neighborhood and city planners. 

That leaves the future of the parcel once home to the Sears Mansion in limbo and likely facing a prolonged battle over the right level of density for a largely single-family neighborhood.

The historic 19th century brick home was damaged beyond repair in the March 2020 earthquake. The previous owners attempted to split the lot, sell one and build on the remaining but instead the property was sold.

A developer in July moved to rezone the third-acre Sears property  at 1902 S. 400 E. (Westminster Ave) to RMF-45, which would allow primarily multi-family housing that could be 45 feet high. (Nearby homes can be up to 28 feet but are largely single-story.)

Planning staff recommended the commission vote against the project, largely due to the fact that it violated several existing — if outdated — master plans for the area. 

After hearing from a mix of neighbors who spoke both in favor and against the project, commissioners prepared to ask the City Council to reject the plan.

“We do need more housing,” Commissioner Brenda Scheer said. “But I don’t think this has been thought through very well by the applicant. Therefore I will be opposing this.” 

The applicant had signaled a willingness to consider other zoning types this summer, but instead took the application forward to the Planning Commission.

“In hindsight probably should have done a better job communicating with” planning staff over other options for the site.

One such option could have included asking the city to rezone the property to RMF-35, which would match an existing senior rehab facility across the street. That zone would have allowed builders to construct up to five units.

Another zoning type that has precedent on the same street a mile north is Form-Based Urban Neighborhood 1 (FB-UN1), which allows for mid-density construction that also has no off-street parking requirement.

The vague plans submitted with the rezoning request envisioned four-story townhomes with two-car parking stalls. They would have largely been unique in the immediate area. 

But in Salt Lake City’s market, any property large enough to contemplate something more than a single home is being eyed by developers.

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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.