Planning Commission to hear developer’s case for relief from Sears Block height + massing design standards

In a decision to significantly impact south Downtown and the State Street corridor, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission will decide on the first phase of the “Sears Block” development, a mixed-use market-rate residential project named “The Jetty.”

The developers, the Colmena Group and Kimball Investments, have proposed a building that measures a height of 131 ft 10 inches to the top of the elevator core, the pinnacle of the structure (p.99, Planning Staff Memo). The D-2 height maximum is 120 ft. 

D-2 zoning also establishes maximum building facade length and distance between doors – 200 ft of facade and 50 ft between operable building entrances.

Rendering from the SE. Image courtesy OZ Architecture.

The building’s designer, OZ Architecture of Denver, has lowered the number of residential units from 360 to 300 in its most recent iteration, yet the building facade length north to south remains 370 ft.

The project will provide 400 parking stalls on four levels – the highest will be open but screened from the street on the building’s third level.

The planning commission will have their first public discussion on the project this week. Will it stick to the zoning rules on height, facade length, and entrances?

The Developer’s case

In materials submitted to the city, the developers argue that the building’s design successfully neutralizes the negative effects on the pedestrian environment of their building’s proposed length and height.

Above the third floor of the 11-story building, the levels are stepped back from the podium, giving a pedestrian scale to the building’s street presence. The designers have also far exceeded the glass requirements on the first two floors, creating a transparency to the building from the street. 

Exterior veneer materials also vary from the building’s north end to south, as does the setback (from 4 ft to 1 ft).

Street-facing details on the 800 S. and State St. corner. Image courtesy OZ Architecture.

Entrances are required every 50 ft by code. The developers state their “building entries are dispersed along [the] facade based on the intent of the zoning required spacing but [also] based on programmatic needs in select locations.” They do not specify how many entrances they plan along either State or 800 South.

In the applicant’s words, it’s a “facade that has the impression of being several buildings.”

There is also a service drive in the middle of the building that exits to State Street, with a decorative gate planned, that emerges from the parking structure. 

Site plan from the proposal. Image courtesy OZ Architecture.

The developer states that curb cuts for parking garage access will be exclusively on 800 South and the new mid-block street on the building’s west side. However, current site plans show parking garage access to the service drive.

Life on State

The three blocks of State Street in The Jetty’s immediate vicinity – from 600 to 900 South – are being redesigned as part of the “Life on State” planning process.

The narrative of Colmena and Kimball’s proposal gives ample deference to the spirit of the plan, aimed at taming the dangerous environment for people not in cars. Whether the building as currently designed will actually contribute to the pedestrian environment as intended by the zoning is in the commission’s lap to decide.

The developers have also “master planned” the rest of the Sears Block, though without revealing much beyond their intention to create midblock streets. Those streets would be dedicated as public rights-of-way.

In the middle of the block will be a .11 acre “central park” – most likely reserved as private space, according to the developers.

A massing model submitted by the applicants indicates a large residential building on the NW corner of the block (“Copper Yards”), and another large structure on the SW corner.

Editor’s note: The headline of this article has been changed to more accurately reflect the nature of the request to modify required design standards in the D-2 code.

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.