New missing-middle housing proposal shows the power of new RMF-30 rules

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A new proposal to add infill housing near the University of Utah is the city’s first project under new rules that recently took effect in the updated RMF-30 zone.

Go West Investments bought a triplex on a 9,500 square foot lot at 532 S. 1200 E., in the city’s East Central neighborhood. The company plans to keep the existing three units and add three more behind it. 

That comes out to just over 1,500 square feet per unit and 27 units per acre in a housing type that has rarely been created in Salt Lake City in recent decades.

The project is an early indicator that the changes the City Council made last year — which took effect last week — might work to encourage infill housing that’s in scale with single-family neighborhoods while also preserving existing housing.

The city ended up approving an ordinance that allows more density if a property owner doesn’t demolish an existing structure.

“If you leave the existing multifamily building you can actually get two additional bonus units,” the developer, Warren Crummett, said. “Those two additional units don’t require any parking.”

He’s still proposing two-car garages for each of the three new units, but Crummett’s proposal would have been illegal had it not been for the October vote by the Council for several reasons.

Before the changes, lots also had to be at least 80 feet wide, a size that is rare among properties in the RMF-30 zone. Crummett’s lot isn’t that wide. In fact, 4 out of every 5 properties in the RMF-30 zone weren’t big enough to allow multifamily housing.

The new ordinance doesn’t have a minimum lot width. It also requires far less land per unit than the previous ordinance.

Of the more than 1,000 parcels in the city, nearly two-thirds have single-family homes on them. That’s understandable: the previous minimum lot requirements and required land per unit meant about half of the parcels in this multifamily zone could accommodate no more than a single-family home.

All buildings on a property needed to have direct access to a street. So while Crummett’s proposal has a new triplex with garage access from an alley behind it, it wouldn’t have been allowed because the new building is tucked behind an existing building and without street frontage.

It also allows new housing types, including tiny homes, sideways row houses and cottage developments. Salt Lake City’s historic cottage court developments — often among the most affordable single-family homes when sold — were illegal to build until last week when the changes took effect.

The changes require 2,000 square feet of land per unit in the zone, and just 1,500 square feet for a tiny home. Property owners previously needed a lot of at least 8,000 square feet to build a duplex. Now they need just 4,000 square feet for a duplex and 6,000 square feet for a triplex.

The previous RMF-30 zone seemed to have been written at a time when the city wanted to make sure no new housing was created in the zone.

That’s beginning to change. And while the market is largely frozen, investors like Crummett are showing that the flexibility in the updated zone will likely lead to more missing middle housing in the capital city. 

Crummett could either work through the approval process with the city and sell the property to an investor who might build and hold it. Or he could win approval, build the project and either keep or sell any of the units.

“I really enjoy how basically it could either be a student rental or a for-sale product using a condo plat,” Crummett said. “It could be for-sale if I want to do that.”

He needs approvals to build slightly taller than the 30 foot height requirement, and to have a slight variance in the rear yard setback. But assuming those are approved and the project is built, Crummett will soon have six units he can keep and rent or sell.

Email Taylor Anderson

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.