City Council considers changes to zoning in transit areas

The Encore Apartments has limited street engagement along 400 South. Photo by Andy Stevenson.

The Salt Lake City Council is one step closer to adopting changes to the approval standards for projects in close proximity to mass transit.  During a Tuesday work session, planning staff briefed city council members on proposed changes to the Transit Station Area (TSA) developmental review process, one of the final steps before council formally votes on the zoning amendment.

“We’ve had a number of projects that didn’t turn out liked we hoped,” said Nick Norris the planning director for Salt Lake City.

City officials adopted the TSA process in 2010 for parcels along the North Temple corridor.  The council expanded the TSA area in 2012 when they voted to include the 400 South corridor to the TSA zone.  Under the TSA development review process, projects earn points for design elements that encourage walkability and are transit friendly.  If a project can earn up to 100 points, they developers can apply for building permits.  If a project earns under 100 points the developers can either reapply with an updated design or go through the Conditional Building and Site Design Review process requiring project approval by the planning commission.

According to Norris, planning staff was already looking into problems with the current TSA process before the city council voted last June to update TSA guidelines.  Norris cited several projects on 400 South that passed under the original TSA process but have poor street engagement and building scale that doesn’t meet the intended goals of TSA zoning.

To encourage walkability and avoid blank walls at the street level, planning staff recommend capping the maximum allowable building width at 200 feet, requiring a building entrance at least every 40 feet and that at least 80 percent of the ground floor is reserved for active uses.  Norris told the council that these changes were based on the market-based realities of Salt Lake.

“Eighty percent allows for driveway entrances, entrances to parking garages,” said Norris.

Zoning map of the TSA district on 400 South. Image courtesy Salt Lake City.

Norris noted that on 400 South and North Temple the ground floor active uses will be required to be either commercial space or live/work units.  There will be a process that developers can go through to bypass that requirement but regardless of the use, developers will be required to build ground floor space according to the building standards for commercial use.  Norris argued that this will allow for developers to later convert ground floor space to commercial uses based on market demand.

Proposed changes to TSA zoning would limit the amount of stucco on a building’s street facing façade to 10 percent of the building’s exterior.  Norris told the council that building materials were the number one concern of residents that participated in public hearings.

To provide better street engagement, planning staff recommends reducing the required 15-foot setback from the street to 10 feet to encourage commercial use and increase the visibility of ground floor uses.  Projects would also be required to have a minimum of 30 percent of front yard space with outdoor uses like a dining area, small plaza or private front yard.  Under the new requirements, developers will need to landscape at least 50 percent of the front yard area.

Zoning map of the TSA district on North Temple. Image courtesy Salt Lake City.

Other proposed changes include increasing the number of points for approval to 125 instead of 100 points, awarding more points for affordable housing for projects in neighborhoods east of Interstate 15 and requiring midblock walks ways for projects in master plan areas that call for midblock connections.  Projects that aren’t in areas that require a midblock way would receive bonus points for creating new midblock connections.  Developers could also earn bonus points for having a low parking ratio (the TSA zone has no minimum parking requirement) and mixed uses on the ground floor.

Councilmembers weren’t unified on awarding projects that don’t provide parking.

“Giving points for not having parking forces anyone that has a car to park on the street, in the neighborhood, and it really makes people angry,” said councilmember Lisa Adams.

Norris mentioned that most projects along 400 South and North Temple provide more parking than residents use, with residents using less than one parking stall per unit.  Because both 400 South and North Temple do not have on-street parking, Norris told the council that most of these projects would still provide off-street parking even with the low parking incentive.

“Most of that will be driven by what they (developers) can get financing for,” said Norris.  “In these districts, we are just barely starting to see the lending market go toward a one ratio.”

Councilmember James Rogers expressed concern that the proposed changes don’t do enough to encourage market-rate development on North Temple.  While the draft incentivises affordable housing east of the interstate, Rogers was concerned that developers can still earn points for including affordable housing on westside projects.  The council has repeatedly expressed concern about clustering affordable housing on the west side.

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted to forward a favorable recommendation to council last fall on the TSA zoning amendment.  The TSA zoning amendment is tentatively scheduled for a public hearing during council’s April 4, 2017, formal council meeting and council could potentially vote on the zoning changes as soon as April 18.

Until the new changes are formally adopted developers will go through the current TSA process.  A six-month moratorium on approving projects under the original TSA zoning guidelines expired in December.  Despite the moratorium, several projects received development review scores and were issued building permits after the moratorium expired.

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