HLC approves demolition of two homes in Trolley Square project area

A preliminary aerial rendering of the proposed Trolley Square mixed-use development looking northwest towards downtown from 700 East. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.

Developers, Trolley Square Ventures, have moved another step forward in their quest to redevelop a large swath of the 600 South block of 600 East directly south of the Trolley Square Mall.

In a nearly six-hour meeting, on Thursday the Historic Landmark Commission approved demolition requests for two of the four residential properties owned by Trolley Square owner, Khosrow Semnani.  The four properties are considered contributing structures in the Central City Historic District.

During the marathon meeting, the HLC considered demolition requests for 13 historic structures in Capitol Hill and Central City Historic Districts.  The 13 structures, all homes, are part of two very different projects, the Bishop Place development and the Trolley Square project.

While the commission nearly unanimously voted to table the Bishop Place request due to a lack of replacement plans, the HLC was more divided on the Trolley Square project.  The developers were able to convince at least several commission members on the need to demolish the structures to make way for their development plans, while other members remained unpersuaded on the need for demolition over preservation.

“Overall I think the applicant has made a pretty compelling case for something being done with these four structures,” said Kenton Peters, the vice chairperson of the HLC.  “The significance of this property and this project certainly influences my thinking on this project.”

Commission members appeared divided on the historic significance of at least two of the most neglected properties. Several commission members questioned preserving homes on a streetscape, 600 South, that they argued has lost the historic neighborhood feel and didn’t necessarily merit preserving homes on a block face that has lost its historic character.

“The argument that a derelict building or a non-code compliant building, or a building that has bad cracks in it or is failing structurally is somehow not a contributing building doesn’t hold water in my opinion,” said Charles Shepherd, the chairperson of the HLC.  “We are talking about the historical character of a building.”

On the preservation side, several commission members expressed a desire to see at least two of the buildings relocated, possibly on Ely Place.  Semnani said that home movers have told him that they could only move two of the homes.  The developers suggested rebuilding the house on Ely, one of the homes deemed unmovable,  at a different location with the original floor plans and materials.

After a lengthy debate, commission members approved the demolition request for the 652 East and 664 East homes, while denying the demolition request for the 658 East and 665 E. Ely Place homes.

Semnani can appeal the decision for the two denied requests or he can reapply for an economic hardship petition.  During the hearing, the developer expressed a willingness to relocate the 658 East and 665 East homes, which would allow him to still develop those parcels without needing demolition approval.

In January, the Salt Lake City Council approved a zoning amendment to change the zoning of the Semnani-owned parcels from RMF-30 (Multi-Family Residential District), RMF-45 and SR-3 (Special Development Pattern Residential) to FB-UN2 (Form Based Urban Neighborhood District).

Semnani and his development team plan to add five new buildings on the 3.5-acre site.  As currently proposed, the project will include three residential and two mixed-use residential buildings that would replace a large surface parking lot and four historic homes.  The proposal also includes a sixth, four-story residential building for a separate parcel at the southeast corner of the intersection at 600 East and 600 South.

Because the project is in a historic district, the developers will need to return to the HLC later this year and present finalized plans for their development before they can start construction.

The historic home at 665 E. Ely Place. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.
The HLC approved the demolition request for the home at 664 E. 600 South. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.
The historic home at 658 E. 600 South. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.
The HLC approved the demolition request for the historic home at 652 E. 600 South. Image courtesy Salt Lake City planning documents.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.