Form-based zoning coming to more SLC neighborhoods? The case of Cleveland Court in Liberty Wells

A proposed townhome project on the corner of 400 East and 1430 South (Cleveland Ct.) in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Wells neighborhood is seeking to change both the zoning and master plan – usually a heavy lift for any developer.

The .32 acre site was approved for a 5-unit development in 2017 – since abandoned – under its existing RMF-35 Moderate Density Multi-Family Residential zoning. That zoning requires 13 parking stalls and setbacks significantly reducing the parcel’s developable footprint. 

Since then, Sentry Financial, a local investment firm, purchased the vacant property. Its proposal is being represented by local developer Peter Corroon.

Cleveland Court site from the south (Cleveland Ct.) Photo courtesy SLC Planning Division.

The Salt Lake City Council took up the proposal in its work session this week, after the city’s Planning Commission had approved the Planned Development proposal with conditions. 

The Planning Commission’s approval hinges on the City Council approving both a change in the Central Community Master Plan (which calls for low-density residential) and the parcel’s zoning from RMF-35 to FB-UN1 Form-Based Urban Neighborhood.

Cleveland Court site from the north-northeast, along 400 East. Photo courtesy SLC Planning.

FB-UN1 is the lowest-density of Salt Lake City’s from-based zones, allowing 2 ½ stories and 4 units per lot, in a typical townhome-intensity density.

Mixed zoning, mixed signals?

Typical but also quizzical, Liberty Wells is a mostly single-family neighborhood that also has an abundance of multi-family zoning overlaying existing single-family homes – many of them of historical stock. This is not uncommon in other Salt Lake City core neighborhoods like Central City, East Central, and Ballpark.

In these neighborhoods, one of the city’s rather archaic multi-family zones – RMF Multi-Family Residential –  frequently exists on top of historic detached buildings and a lower-density development pattern. Notably, these neighborhoods also include patches of multi-family and commercial buildings.

The zoning map in the vicinity. Project area in red. Light yellow is R-1-5000 single family, copper color is RMF-35. Image courtesy SLC Planning Division.

Many of these commercial and apartment buildings are left over from the city’s original zoning – accommodating a development pattern based on walking and street trolleys before automobiles became dominant.

Despite the abundance of RMF zoning, new multi-family development is relatively rare, because RMF-35 and -45 (35 and 45 feet maximum) discourages densification. Its height restrictions, and expensive parking + setback requirements encourage lower density that is hard for developers to pencil without true luxury investment and pricing. 

What will form-based zoning bring?

In contrast, the applicant for the Liberty Wells project aims to build “missing middle instead of high-end condos” that offers “affordability by design as opposed to affordability by subsidies.”

Corroon noted that by being able to build more, smaller units on the .32 acre parcel, they would be more affordable. Rent in the range of $1000 for a 1-bdrm to $2200 for the 3-bdrm units. That’s between 80-100% of area AMI, he told the City Council.

The most obvious change to the existing pattern of single-family development pattern will probably be setbacks. New development in Central 9th provides ample examples of the contrast between traditional and contemporary development. There, buildings with traditional 30-ft setbacks are increasingly juxtaposed with new development built to the street with little- to no setback.

And parking? Corroon and Sentry propose to more than split the difference between the 13 stalls required under the current zoning and their proposal. While FB-UN1 requires no off-street parking, the project will provide 8 stalls – one for each bedroom except the single 1-bdrm unit.

The City Council has scheduled the master plan amendment and zoning change for an April 7 public hearing with potential action on April 21.

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.