Trolley Square developer addresses residents

Residents listen to a presentation for a proposed mixed-use development for the block south of Trolley Square. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
Residents listen to a presentation for a proposed mixed-use development for the block south of Trolley Square. Photo by Isaac Riddle.

Residents of the Central City Neighborhood Council (CCNC) got their chance Wednesday to speak directly to developer Khosrow Semnani, during the council’s monthly meeting.  In front of a sizeable crowd, Semnani presented his plans to develop a large portion of the block directly south of Trolley Square on the 600 South block of 600 East.

Semnani has a vested interest in the area surrounding Trolley Square.  His company, Trolley Square Ventures, purchased the aging shopping mall after it had fallen into receivership, in 2013.

Although no final plans have been announced, Semnani told that crowd that he wants to build a large mixed-use residential project that could potentially include a boutique hotel.

“What’s good for the community is good for us,” said Semnani.

The developer will need support from neighbors because the project will require various city approvals before construction can begin.  The project area is in the Central City Historic District and will need final approval from the Historic Landmark Commission.  The developer is also requesting a zoning change from Multi-Family Residential District (RMF-45) to Form Based Urban Neighborhood District (FB-UN) which will need approval by the Salt Lake City Council.

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission sent a favorable recommendation to city council on the zoning change during a March commission meeting that was often contentious and ran nearly five hours. Dozens of residents turned out to last month’s meeting to voice frustration about the lack of community involvement in the proposal.

It was during that meeting that Semnani promised the commission that he will keep residents better informed.

During Wednesday’s CCNC meeting, residents expressed concerns that the project would change the character of the neighborhood and exacerbate parking issues.  Several residents in attendance complained about the design of recent multifamily projects that they felt takes away from the neighborhood.

Before the council meeting, a resident had sent out flyers decrying the project and its potential impact on the neighborhood.  The flyer warned that the FB-UN zone would allow for “food processors, funeral homes and laboratories” and has no minimum parking requirement.

Under the RMF-45 zone, Semnani could build outright a residential project up to 45 feet. The FB-UN zone would allow for project heights up to 50 feet and reduced setbacks.

According to the Salt Lake planning division,  FB-UN districts are used to create urban and walkable neighborhoods that offer diverse housing, commercial and transportation options. Under FB-UN zoning the form and scale of the building are what is evaluated over standard land use and height restrictions that are typical under more standard zoning like RMF zones.  Much of the Central Ninth neighborhood is zoned FB-UN.

Semnani argued that developing larger multifamily residential properties adjacent to Trolley Square is needed to support the mall.  The proposed project area currently consists of a large surface parking lot and several abandoned homes.

Former Utah State Senator, Scott Howell, a consultant for Trolley Ventures, said that the developers will soon begin a market study that should take five to six months.  Once the study is completed, Trolley Ventures will return to the CCNC to present its plans for the site.  According to Howell, the project will include affordable housing units and will use quality materials that incorporate design elements that are complementary to the community and the adjacent Trolley Square mall.

“I think we’ve all had our fill of beige stucco,” said Howell.

In March, Semnani released potential renderings that were inspired by the work of Richard K.A. Kletting, the architect that designed the Utah State Capitol, the Old Saltaire Resort Pavilion and the Utah Exposition Building that once stood where Trolley Square is now.

The zoning map for the area around a proposed development adjacent to Trolley Square. Image courtesy Salt Lake City.
The zoning map for the area around a proposed development adjacent to Trolley Square. Image courtesy Salt Lake City.

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.