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SLC wants to sell 'surplus' space on streetcar line

Published March 1, 2014 9:17 pm

Development • Housing and retail sought for community garden space.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For sale: Salt Lake City-owned open space perfect for high density development along the Sugar House Streetcar line.

Mayor Ralph Becker has forwarded to the City Council his desire to dispose of 2.85 acres of "surplus" open space along Sugarmont Drive (2250 S.) just east of 900 East.

The Planning Commission voted Wednesday to keep the land as open space. But the council will have the final say.

The acreage, once the site of dilapidated tennis courts and now a community garden, also includes a parking lot and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake that leases a lot at 968 Sugarmont Drive. The parcel fronts the new S Line and appears ripe for the mayor's vision of transit-oriented development. It also would continue a new era of high-density development in Sugar House.

"It's ideal for housing and mixed use," said David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff. "Generally, you want dense housing and retail that supports that housing in close proximity to the streetcar."

But one developer has another idea: a long-term lease of the land in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club.

That proposal from Rinaldo Hunt — yet to come formally to the city — would completely renovate the Boys and Girls Club building, construct a second building comprised of housing and light commercial and retail. The structure would accommodate the community garden on its rooftop. The plan also includes public parking, Hunt said in an interview.

But residents of single-family homes on nearby Simpson Avenue fear such a project would detract from the character of their quaint neighborhood that borders Fairmont Park to the south.

An appraisal of the property has yet to be completed, according to a spokesman for the mayor. However, in 2013 the Salt Lake County assessor's office put the value of the land and clubhouse at $819,200.

It cannot be sold until the City Council agrees that it is surplus. Then the council must hold a public hearing, wait six months, and then rezone the land for development.

Hunt said he wants to bring his lease proposal to the council in the near future. If successful, it would make moot the process to sell the land.

The Boys and Girls Club sits on the east end of the 2.85-acre parcel and has been part of the discussion because the land under the clubhouse is owned by the municipality, said City Councilman Stan Penfold. The club has 14 years remaining on its lease, according to city documents, but a potential developer could make a new accommodation for the club as part of a larger proposal.

"It seems like [the club's] primary desire is to remain in the neighborhood," Penfold said. "But they need a bigger facility."

Development of the acreage would be a big plus for the area and the streetcar, he said.

"If we want a successful streetcar line, we need people living and shopping along it," Penfold said.

It appears that a majority of the City Council is on board with development of the land, although it has not taken any formal action. If the council agrees to sell the land, the Becker administration must go through the rigors of an open "request for proposal" process that likely would seek developers to build dense housing and retail space.

Hunt, however, already has taken a preliminary plan that outlined 90 rental units within a 45-foot height limit to the Sugar House Community Council. It received mixed reviews, said Judy Short, chairwoman of the community council's land-use committee. "Some people think it's great. Some people think it's not so great," she said.

A high density development on the site could extend to the backyards of Simpson Avenue residents between 900 East and 1000 East, including that of Burton Brown. He fears a project, like the one proposed by Hunt, would spoil his neighborhood.

"From the balconies of those condos you could look right down in our backyards and bedrooms," Brown said. "It doesn't fit. It changes the look and feel of our neighborhood."

Cabot Nelson, who also lives on that block of Simpson Avenue, said a project like the one proposed with heights of 45 feet is too massive for the neighborhood.

"I knew development would eventually come," he said. "But something that big with that kind of massing would be quite a blow."

Former Councilman Soren Simonsen, who represented Sugar House, said the proposal is not just a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue. "Giving up open space for development is not a win/win situation," he said. "Open space is as essential as anything we have."

csmart@sltrib.com