Downtown’s civic campus getting more residential if planning commission agrees to ground-floor vacancy concessions

A 54-unit, market-rate apartment building at 353 East 500 South by locals Cowboy Partners looks to share the glow of Salt Lake City’s reinvestment in its campus in and around historic City Hall. 

The project will sit directly east of the Public Safety Building on 500 S at the current location of Freshmans Jewelers, a block south of the Library Trax stop. Its 54 dwellings will all be 2-bdrm, 2-bath, and be stacked four over one, on .54 acres in RMF-45 zoning. 

Library Square is a half a block away.

353 E 500 S. This retail space, Freshmans, a long-time source for jewelry manufacturing, supply, and sales, is sitting on four formerly-single-family residential lots. It looks to return to residential use in a big way. Image courtesy Google.
Civic campus outlined in yellow, Liberty Duet site in blue. Looking NW from Central City. The Citizen Apartments site, empty lot, lower right. Photo by Luke Garrott

The podium, at grade, will provide 48 parking stalls for residents. There is no retail on the property. Ground-floor uses are limited to 500 South, which will see an entry, lobby, fitness center, and the parking garage entry/exit. 

The Blair Street frontage is vacant – site plans show it’s the western wall of the parking garage.

Developers are looking to the Planning Commission for exceptions from several zoning requirements in the RMF-45 zone. 

The top-floor set-back exception and a height increase to 55 ft, given the building’s bountiful balconies and facade articulation, aren’t likely to see resistance.

Liberty Duet from 500 S. Courtesy Humphrey & Partners Architects.

In contrast, the applicant put much effort into arguing that the 60% glass requirement for street-facing facades shouldn’t apply to their project, both on 500 S. and Blair St.

“Although the proposed community doesn’t meet the glass requirement, it fulfills the purpose of the glass requirement. It is architecturally interesting and interactive with the signage and mix of brick, glass, metal, and lighting,” wrote Cowboy Partners.

The absence of any activity on Blair St. is likely to be an issue with the Commission, if the application is any indication. 

Liberty Duet, west elevation along Blair St. Courtesy Humphrey & Partners Architects.

The developers offer an avalanche of photographs showing how Blair St. has been ignored by both developments recently built on it – the Public Safety Building and the Exchange’s two structures. 

Thus, according to the applicant’s logic, Liberty Duet should be exempt from the code’s requirements to activate the street frontage along Blair.

Site plans courtesy Humphrey & Partners Architects.

The street, according to the developer’s application, is a “private street owned by the City.” 

The project is currently being processed by Planning staff and will likely see light at the Planning Commission in late Spring.

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.