Garden center near Trolley Square looks to grow into a residential project

As Salt Lake City struggles to update its infill ordinances to allow more density, property owners and developers continue to pursue regulatory relief for projects so that they pencil economically. 

At 550 South 600 East, adjacent to Trolley Square, Cottonwood Residential and the owners of Western Gardens have submitted to the city a zoning change petition that will likely also require a master plan amendment to build a 150-250 unit market-rate residential project. 

The beloved Central City garden center is one of two Western Gardens’ locations looking to enter into multi-family housing development (the other is in West Valley City). The property currently also hosts the Ivy House reception center and copious surface parking and product storage. 

Western Gardens site at 550 S 600 E, aerial from the east. Trolley Square, bottom. Image courtesy Google Earth.

No existing residential structures would be demolished for the project.

Office and apartment buildings sit to the north, along 500 South, while the center court residences of Hawthorne Avenue and larger homes as well as businesses along 600 South border the property.

The large 2.3 acre site is currently zoned CN Neighborhood Commercial and seeks a change to RO Residential Office.

The developer’s pitch

The properties to the north are zoned RO, while the rest of the block is mostly covered by SR-3 and RMF-35. In the Central City master plan, future land use calls for mid-density residential, and RO is considered a high-density zone.

Project site in red; Proposed setbacks outlined in white by the developer. Images courtesy Cottonwood Residential.

RO is limited to 60 ft, and Tyler Morris from locals Cottonwood Residential stated to the Central City Neighborhood Council on June 24 that the Historic Landmark Commission will likely “limit bulk and height. We expect to step it in toward the center of site, being thoughtful about transitory height as we approach existing residential.”

Cottonwood expects to build between three and five stories on the site, adjusting to interfaces with extant surroundings.

Parking will be at a 1:1 ratio, all of it underground, according to Morris. Despite extolling the site’s walkability, proximity to retail and transit, “It’s still a car-driven area,” he told the neighborhood council.

The development will be strictly residential, and “doesn’t compete [with] but rather supports the adjacent commercial uses,” according to the developer’s documents.

Neighborhood concerns

The Historic Landmark Commission will have design review authority over the development, as it resides in the Central City Local Historic District. 

The zoning change and a likely master plan amendment will have to pass the Planning Commission and the City Council.

At the Central City Neighborhood Council meeting, residents expressed concerns about the project’s height, as well as its faces on the west and south sides, and asked whether a pocket park might possibly be in the works.

Cottonwood’s Morris responded that his company was open to dividing the project into two buildings with a connection midblock to Hawthorne Ave. “We’re very flexible in how we approach a possible green space and connection to Hawthorne,” he emphasized.

The proposal’s next stop is the Planning Commission.

Interested in seeing where developers are proposing and building new apartments in Salt Lake, or just want to support a local source of news on what’s happening in your neighborhood? Learn more about becoming a member.

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.