A six-month moratorium on new projects in the Transit Station Area zone is set to expire December 11. Salt Lake City Council voted in June to put the moratorium in place via legislative intent, which required the Planning Division to reevaluate the TSA zoning ordinance for parcels near portions of the Airport and University TRAX lines.
Yet, Councilmember Derek Kitchen, the sponsor of the legislative action, contends that the Biskupski administration didn’t respect the council action by allowing planning staff to review and score several projects in the TSA district during the moratorium.
“It defeats the purpose of the legislative action, said Kitchen. “Why go through the processes if we aren’t going to follow them.”
Under the TSA zoning process, developers proposing projects within a quarter mile of a TRAX station are required to apply for a development review score as a condition for project approval. Developers must receive a score of 100 points to bypass a public hearing and review by the Planning Commission.
According to city records, planning staff reviewed and assigned a development score to four projects during the moratorium. Two additional projects are currently under review. All six projects are in proximity to North Temple, which Kitchen referred to as “one of the most important corridors” in the city.
“Ultimately we are getting projects built on North Temple that the public clearly doesn’t want,” said Kitchen. “Quality is more important than quantity. We are not developing well, we have to think about quality as an investment.”
The intent of the TSA zoning district is to encourage pedestrian orientated and mixed-use development along the Green and Red TRAX lines. City officials created the first TSA zone in 2010, as part of the North Temple Boulevard Station Area Plan adopted in anticipation of the new TRAX line to the airport. Two years later the TSA zone was expanded to include portions of 400 South.
But it was the type of developments emerging on 400 South that led city officials to question the efficacy of the current TSA zoning ordinance. Since the TSA district was expanded to include 400 South, five multifamily projects along the corridor have gone through the TSA development review process. Of those five projects, only two include a mix of uses, Liberty Boulevard and the Ninth East Lofts at Bennion Plaza. Both projects also include affordable housing (though the Lofts and Bennion Plaza will be entirely affordable housing).
The other three projects, the 4th and 4th Apartments, Encore Apartments and Seasons on the Boulevard, are within a block of each other and lack both street engagement and a mix of uses. It was the 4th and 4th project that was the tipping point for Kitchen. The project takes up almost the entirety of the 300 East block of 400 South and resulted in the demolition of five buildings.
Mike Reberg, the director of the Department of Community & Neighborhoods, argued that while planning staff reviewed and scored projects during the moratorium, the department respected the terms of the moratorium by holding building permits for scored projects while the moratorium was in place.
“To me, the bigger issue is not whether we scored these projects now or later, but the reality of getting something done in a six-month window,” said Reberg.
City records indicate that of the four projects that received a TSA development score during the moratorium, one project, the Orange Street Apartments received a building permit and is waiting for approval of a demolition permit. The three other projects have yet to receive building and demolition permits.
Once the moratorium expires on Sunday, all four projects will be eligible for building permits.
Reberg acknowledged that the process could have been handled better internally and attributed the planning division reviews as a result of poor communication between agencies and a misunderstanding of a pending ordinance.
“We need to have a better and deeper conversation at the front end,” said Reberg.
Kitchen argued that it was Reberg that initially suggested the legislative intent as the best approach for the council to pursue changes to TSA zoning and that Reberg told council members that his department would hold applications during the moratorium.
“It is surprising to me that the administration would go along,” said Kitchen of the TSA score reviews. “I think that this is an example of things going off the rails, it almost feels like we are speaking different languages.”
On November 9th, the Planning Commission voted to send a favorable recommendation to city council on text changes to the TSA zoning district. The revised zoning ordinance further incentivizes affordable housing, quality building materials and ground-floor mixed uses while modifying design standards to enhance pedestrian orientation with appropriate building scale and street-level engagement. The revised ordinance will return to the mayor’s office for a final review before being sent to city council at the end of the month.
Of the four projects that received a TSA development score during the moratorium, only one, the North 4th Apartments, will be mixed use and have an affordable housing component. The other projects approved through the TSA guidelines repeat some of the same issues as the developments on 400 South. The Orange Street Apartments include surface parking and will have no active or mixed uses at the street level. Another large multifamily project proposed for the northwest corner of the intersection of 300 West and North Temple (site of the now-closed North Temple Inn) received the needed 100 points but will include no mixed uses on the ground floor.
Now that the moratorium is set to expire, there is not much that can be done with the projects that received a TSA development score. Starting Monday, those projects will be able to receive building permits and move forward with construction. Since the revised TSA ordinance has yet to reach council’s desk, the soonest a new ordinance could be adopted would be February, two months after the moratorium.
“What recourse do we have as a city council to hold the mayor’s office responsible?” asked Kitchen. “If the process and systems in place aren’t catching these errors, maybe the planning division needs to be rebuilt?”