*This article has been updated
The Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted to forward a favorable recommendation to City Council on an updated version of the Downtown Community Plan. This is the second time in a year that the Commission has voted in favor of the plan, sending a positive recommendation of a previous version of the plan to Council last August.
According to Molly Robinson, the Urban Designer for Salt Lake City, the revised downtown plan “will direct growth and development downtown for the next 25 years.”
“We want downtown to be an internationally recognized destination,” said Robinson.
The current draft of the Downtown Plan has taken years to develop. Between 2012 and 2014, City planners organized information sessions, focus groups and several public outreach efforts. Planners held a dozen “living room socials,” where residents could invite planning staff into their homes to talk to neighbors about the strengths and weaknesses of downtown. Planners also hosted brown bag lunches to talk with leaders of local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
According to Robinson, further updates to last year’s draft were needed to better “balance the different interests and needs of the downtown community.”
“We are trying to reflect in the plan, the two and a half years of public feedback,” said Robinson.
The plan will head to City Council for council input and a final vote. If adopted, the Downtown Community Plan would replace the current Downtown Master Plan, Gateway District land Use and Development Master Plan and the Gateway Specific Master Plan.
The existing plan for downtown was adopted in 1995 and, according to Robinson, the majority of that plan’s goals have been met. The updated plan will encompass a larger area, from North Temple to 1000 South and Interstate 15 to 200 East, and will focus more on the neighborhoods and individual districts within the project area.
The new plan will increase the focus on housing options and adding density downtown while accommodating new residents. The City estimates that 20,000 people will live downtown by 2040. Current estimates put the population at just over 5,000. According to the 2010 Census, there is an average of three dwelling units per acre in downtown Salt Lake City. In comparison, downtowns in Denver and Portland average eight and 14 units per acre respectively.
The plan notes that the majority of housing units in the downtown project area are in multi-family buildings with 10 or more units. The plan recommends expanding housing options to include to mid-density housing like townhomes and duplexes that attract families while still providing the higher density housing attractive to singles and empty-nesters.
Open space is a key component of the Downtown Plan. The updated version of the community plan includes new recommendations for the Green Loop, a linear park that builds off the green loop proposed in a 2008 Downtown Rising plan. The linear park would run along 200 East and connect to City Creek Canyon and Memory Grove. The park would then loop through the Central Business District eventually connecting to the Gateway Commons Park on 500 West.
Rail transit is also key to the revised Downtown Plan. City planners recommend creating a downtown circulator by extending TRAX west on Main Street along 400 South to the Intermodal Hub at 600 West. A second route would extend TRAX down 400 West off 400 South to reconnect with the current TRAX line at 200 West and 700 South.
Under the new plan a proposed downtown streetcar would connect 500 East and South Temple to the Intermodal Hub, running east to west on 100 and 200 South and north to south on 500 East and West Temple. A second phase would extend the streetcar east to the University of Utah and south to 900 South in the Granary District.
City planners propose various initiatives aimed at increasing the walkability in downtown Salt Lake by encouraging more activity at the street level by modifying zoning regulations that will more easily allow ground-floor retail in new and existing buildings. Planners also recommend priority be given to pedestrian-oriented streets and active ground floor instead of parking, with parking structures designed to include active ground floor uses.
“We need to build at the human scale (to increase walkability), with a density of development and amenities,” said Robinson. “Getting that rhythm right is really important.”