Panel suggests new zoning to improve Central City neighborhood

The Block 44 Apartments as seen from the intersection of 400 South and 400 East. Photo by Mike Fife.

The north portion of Center City, bounded by 400 South to South Temple and 300 East to 700 East, is already one of the neighborhoods with the greatest mixes of incomes and uses, but a team of planning and design professionals from across North America think the neighborhood could become one of the city’s most vibrant and inclusive with a distinct identity that capitalizes on its proximity to downtown and the University of Utah.

The team, a peer panel with the Rose Center Land Use Fellowship Peer Exchange, presented on Thursday, March 22 their recommendations for activating the neighborhood and increasing its affordable housing stock after an intensive week analyzing the area.

“We think there is an incredible opportunity to create a mixed-income community in this neighborhood,” said Nolan Lienhart with ZGF Architects in Portland, Oregon.

The panel had spent much of the last week touring the area, conducting interviews with area stakeholders and analyzing current city zoning ordinances.

The team noted that despite the area’s proximity to downtown and the University of Utah, the neighborhood lacks a distinct identity and defined center that could help increase interest in the area.  The panel recommended that the city strengthen its relationship with the University to enhance the school’s presence in the area.  Additionally, panel members suggested the city create an entertainment district in the area building off the energy on Broadway.

The area’s established office corridors on 500 East and 400 South could be enhanced to attract more businesses to the area which could in turn fund affordable housing projects, especially if the city created a redevelopment project area in the neighborhood that would allow it to utilize Tax Increment Financing.

“This is an area that with a little work, you will get more office tenants interested in this area,” said Steve Schoeny, the director of the City of Columbus Department of Development in Ohio.

Schoeny reemphasized the need for the city to improve its collaborative relationship with the University of Utah, citing Colombus’ relationship with Ohio State University and the impact it has had on redevelopment.

Besides building more affordable housing, the panel suggested that the city rezone the area with a form-based code similar to the zoning used in the Central Ninth Neighborhood and along the S-Line in Sugar House.  The panelists argued that a Form-Based zone would encourage a greater range of building types that would better reflect much of the neighborhood’s historic architecture that has the type of setbacks and street-engagement that a form-based code would encourage.  Form-based codes focus more on design than use.  Currently only the properties on 400 South fall within a form-based zone.  Those parcels are in the city’s Transit Station Area Zone.

“When design excellence is achieved there is a greater acceptance of density,” said Mark Noskiewicz, a lawyer and panelist from Toronto Canada.

While encouraging zoning that would create more new construction, the panel also suggested that the city look at ways to encourage adaptive reuses of some of the neighborhood’s older buildings as a way to reactivate the neighborhood while preserving its historic character.

One panelist cited the proposed Violin School Commons development as the type of development that could benefit the area with its proposed mix of new construction and the adaptive reuse of the Northwest Pipeline Building and the mix of affordable and market-rate units.  The project, by Form Development and Cowboy Partners, will include three buildings with a combined total of 248 residential unit, 111 of which will be income-restricted, on 2.5 acres at the northeast corner of the intersection of 300 East and 200 South.

“I look forward to the future dialogue with the Council to look at what is possible for the area,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.  “We’ve done a lot of planning. It is time to implement.”

Salt Lake City is one of several participating cities in the ninth year of the prestigious Rose Center Land Use Fellowship, operated by the Rose Center for Public Leadership, Urban Land Institute (ULI), and the National League of Cities (NLC).  According to city officials Salt Lake City’s expenses to participate in the program, including the panel’s visit, are underwritten by the Rose Center to ensure objectivity during the process.  

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