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In the summer of 2020, while considering the future of a prime corner of real estate overlooking Sugar House park, a few hundred residents in the neighborhood were given a set of likely scenarios.
They might want a cute cafe, a bar or a restaurant on the perched corner at 2111 S. 1300 E., the Wasatch Mountains framing their view in the distance beyond the park. But with the private, 0.8-acre lot for sale with a price tag of $7.2 million, that’s not what they’d get.
“A drive-thru, a gas station or a bank. You’re going to get one of those three,” Dustin Holt, a principal with the development firm dbUrban, remembers saying at the time. “At this price point, this corner, this location, the traffic counts. You’re going to get one of those three if it’s not multi-family.”
Holt was in discussions with city officials, representatives from the neighborhood community council and residents about what he and his equity partner hoped to build if they could obtain either a rezone or a special exception to make the project pencil.
He came up with several concepts that could have worked for his group, including rezoning the property and building slightly taller to free up space for a better entry on the park’s northwest side.
He underwent talks with parks officials to swap land with them, making the northwest corner of Sugar House park an entry to the park and allowing housing to be built on its east side, near Highland High, he said.
In response to these early discussions, the community council received hundreds of comments against it, a record surpassing even those received when a Walmart was built about a decade earlier, according to Judi Short, a land use expert from Sugar House.
“380 comments is a record for sure…380 tells me people really care about what happens,” Short said Wednesday. “Many people filled out my form but then sent a separate email asking what they can do to prevent this.”
In the face of widespread criticism, Holt backed out of the attempted redevelopment. Soon enough, his prophecy from 2020 came to fruition.
‘ANOTHER LOUSY GAS STATION’
Rather than housing with a cafe at the bottom, just a cafe or a bar, builders are moving forward with plans to erect a gas station and convenience store on the site, Building Salt Lake first reported.
Yet again, residents don’t like the option.
But they might not have an effective avenue to torpedo the development this time.
Kum & Go officials have created and revised the site plan for their long-term lease on the site. The original owner, Paula Romney Farr, has signed off on the franchise’s request to build the gas station on the park.
Kum & Go representatives have submitted for a conditional use permit that they are likely to get barring any unforeseen requirement they aren’t meeting.
As Holt had pointed out before, gas stations are allowed on land zoned Community Business (CB), if owners obtain a conditional use permit.
That process is relatively streamlined. So while complaints about the project are still accumulating online, company representatives are going through the process that could lead to the second gas station on four corners of the intersection overlooking Sugar House Park.
City officials are still reviewing the proposal to see if there are detrimental impacts that can’t be mitigated, according to Planning Director Nick Norris.
City divisions “are still evaluating the most recent updated plans to determine if any detrimental impact can be reduced,” Norris told us. “The Planning Commission can only deny a conditional use if there is a reasonably anticipated detrimental impact that cannot otherwise be mitigated.”
A source familiar with the attempted sale of the site acknowledged a gas station probably isn’t the best thing to have overlooking a gem in the regional park system.
“It’s important for you, your readers, everybody to understand that [this] wasn’t what anybody tried to do from the beginning,” said one source familiar with the sale of the property. “If the city and the community would be a bit more open to ideas, I think we’d end up with better product, better development.”
“We missed an opportunity to do something spectacular there,” they added, “and now we’re ending up with another lousy gas station.”
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN?
[Images]: Early conceptual renderings for the private parcel on the northwest corner of Sugar House Park. (The facade materials would have been different.) A developer tried various concepts to make the project work before facing resistance and giving up.
Under the existing Community Business (CB) zoning for the private parcel immediately adjacent to Sugar House Park, multi-family housing is on a relatively short list of building types that are allowed out-right (or without needing special approval from the city if all conditions are met).
But given the layout and slope of the parcel, Holt said he needed an exception, or essentially permission to ignore a small piece of the code regulating the buildings in CB zones across the city.
“There were 2-3 feet and some minor exceptions. But we were going to need them to be able to do what we thought we could do by right,” Holt said. “It wasn’t fully by-right because we still had to ask for some special exceptions.”
That was for a 30-foot tall, three-story building with ground-floor retail. But given that the special exception process would have likely been an uphill battle with the public, Holt and his team came up with other ideas for the site.
One idea was to rezone the property to extend the Sugar House business district zoning east across 1300 East. (It currently ends on the west side of the street.) He would have agreed to a planned development for the site to ensure he built no taller than seven stories, he said.
In exchange, he said, the site plan called for opening up space on the north end of the property for a sort of gateway into the park.
“When I go to big cities, their parks have a front door on the corner,” Holt said. “This is one instance where a park doesn’t have a front door on a true corner.”
He proposed the extra height in exchange.
“One level of underground parking. Two levels of above ground parking that we were skirting with two-story townhomes. Retail on the south side,” he said of the revised plan. “Look at a green wall on the east side of it, facing the park. Then five stories of stepping and tiered.”
He was thinking of a cafe, given the state’s asinine laws around alcohol would prevent a bar or restaurant serving liquor adjacent to a park.
When that idea ran into opposition, another one arose.
“Here was the thing that very few people knew we were working on,” Holt said. “I was actually having conversations with the park authority…about getting land area for land area.”
Holt would have given the park his 0.8 acres in exchange for a parcel the same size on the park’s eastern end at 1700 East, he said.
The players involved, including Farr, became uneasy with the idea of spot-zoning a part of a county park, and eventually all parties stepped away.
It’s not clear whether any party considered stepping up to pay the $7 million to buy the property and either gift the land to the park or absorb losses and build something else there. There are no known offers from government entities to use the space for a civic area.
After about a year, the Kum & Go proposal arose, as did opposition to it.
Common themes among opponents of the housing proposal included general feelings of malaise about more housing in Salt Lake City, particularly near the heart of Sugar House. Others said the private land should be absorbed or given to the park. And, as is common for opponents of almost any change in the city, there are concerns about traffic.
People will still be coming and going. But instead of residents leaving and returning home in a walkable part of the city, people will be coming in their cars for fossil fuels and snacks.
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