Mayor says advocates’ request for affordable housing near Delta Center ‘reasonable’

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The Mayor’s office said Tuesday that a local nonprofit’s request that Smith Entertainment Group should include affordable housing if its upzone to redevelop around the Delta Center goes through.

City Hall has been tight-lipped about its priorities in the negotiations that formally began in April and must be concluded before a Sept. 1 deadline set by Senate Bill 272, which set the process in motion.

Up to this point, only a commitment to funding a robust public space for Japantown has surfaced in City Council discussions and mayoral statements.

SEG’s conceptual images for the blocks around the NBA/NHL arena includes an LA LIVE-style entertainment and convention district that would require upzoning on some of the developable properties, which are owned by the LDS Church and Salt Lake County. 

Crossroads Urban Center sent a letter to Mayor Mendenhall last week requesting that in exchange for the zoning changes (SEG is asking for unlimited height), an affordable housing component be included.

Let’s take a look at the request and what the Mayor’s reaction might mean.

Requests in the letter

The letter, dated May 17, notes that over 10% of the 3,300 units planned at The Point in Draper at the old state prison site are earmarked to be affordable. Since Salt Lake City taxpayers will be financing the SEG project, Crossroads argues “it is only fair to ask for an even larger share of the units in this district to be affordable, and that some of those units be deeply affordable so that people working at the part-time, low-wage, leisure and hospitality sector jobs in the district can afford to live there.”

Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City.

The authors, Glenn Bailey and Bill Tibbitts, specifically “insist that any zoning amendment made to enable increased density in the proposed district around the Delta Center be contingent on the inclusion of an agreement that:

  • Ten percent of the units be affordable to households earning less than $30,000 per year
  • Ten percent of the units be affordable to households earning less than $60,000 per year.”

When asked for clarification on the numbers, Tibbitts told us those dollar amounts roughly correspond to families making 30% and 60% of AMI in the region. He added, “Many of the people working in most of the jobs in this district will need to find housing that is affordable to people earning 30% AMI somewhere. Hopefully others will be able to afford units that are affordable at 60% AMI.“ 

What SEG wants in the upzone

The Mendenhall Administration submitted a zoning change petition in early April, and held an Open House outside the Delta Center on May 9. The major elements of the zoning change requests are the following: 

  • Remove the maximum height limit in the D4 zone. The existing height limit in the D4 zone is 125’, except for the southeast corner of block 67 (former location of the US Post Office) which allows building height to 375’. The proposal will match the height requirements of the D1 zone, which does not have an established maximum height.
  • Importantly, this will be an upzone for all of D-4, not any specific area designated as a sports and entertainment zone.
  • Change the following land uses from conditional to permitted: Stadiums, Heliports, accessory; and Parking, commercial.
  • Extend the Delta Center sign overlay that applies to the block to the Salt Palace Convention Center, Abravanel Hall, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Arts, and the convention center hotel. This would include exempting signs within the overlay from the sign chapter when the signs are not facing a public street.  
  • Clarify that additions to existing buildings that exceed the maximum setback are allowed.

Apparently, SEG wants design impunity. This is a privilege currently only enjoyed by higher levels of governments, namely state and federal agencies.

When asked for clarification, Planning Director Nick Norris told us, “The proposed amendment would make the building height match the D-1 building height, which is unlimited. However, design review would still be required for any building over 75’. It is possible that this will change based on feedback received so far.” 

Mayor’s response to affordable housing demands

We asked both the Mayor and City Council leadership for responses to Crossroads’ request.

The Mayor’s response to Crossroads, emailed on Tuesday, stated that “At this point, the City has not received a conceptual design or mix of anticipated uses in the district, and no indication of whether or how much housing the district might include.”

Yet she also wrote, “Affordable housing is always a top priority for me and I agree that a 20% affordable housing set-aside is a reasonable request.” 

The City Council office declined to comment, saying “we are unable to answer your questions right now since we are in the very early stages of this process.”

In March the City Council passed ordinance changes that codifies its new Community Benefits Policy. Property owners now petitioning for upzoning or changes to master plans are required to offer public benefits defined in Title 19.06.050 of city code

Crossroads highlighted that policy in its letter, but was unaware of the fact, which the Mayor’s letter alerted them to, that those requirements do not apply to Mayor-initiated petitions.

While not legally required, it will be seen whether the substance of the new policy makes it into the agreement between the city and SEG.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to withdraw the assertion that Planning Director Nick Norris’ comments on discarding design review for buildings over 75′ in D-4 were influenced by SEG exclusively and not the public Open House. The story’s author originally presented a mistaken chronology of events.

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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.