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SLC Planning Commission unanimously rejects downtown revitalization plan

The Salt Lake City & County Building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, January 3, 2024.
Spenser Heaps
Utah News Dispatch
The Salt Lake City & County Building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, January 3, 2024.

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the City Council deny Smith Entertainment Group’s plan for a downtown revitalization zone.

With the action, the commission rejects a big part of the plan to raise the city’s sales taxes by 0.5% to host a National Hockey League team at a Delta Center surrounded by an entertainment district.

However, the City Council has the last say, and could still approve the plan.

None of the commissioners showed enthusiasm for the permitted uses the Mayor’s Office is planning on implementing in three downtown blocks, including the one where the Delta Center sits. Though they understand the Utah Legislature established a Sept. 1 deadline to have a zoning plan in place, in their view, the process is too rushed and the proposal is overall “bad planning.”

“Not equitable. Not culturally sensitive. Not sustainable. Not for everyone,” commissioner Bree Scheer said on Wednesday, reading a prepared statement. “And certainly not for me as a downtown resident.”

It’s a “unique” situation, Nick Norris, director of Salt Lake City’s Planning Division, said in his presentation about the plans.

The city is proposing changing the zoning of some areas to a secondary central business district — or a D-4 zone — a category that’s intended to allow housing, entertainment, cultural, convention, business and retail activities that support the downtown core.

That special zoning allows increasing building heights to 600 feet, though plans for buildings taller than 75 feet must be submitted for review. Stadiums and commercial parking will be permitted, but demolishing structures to construct parking lots won’t be allowed. Heliports would also be a conditional use.

The Smith Entertainment Group had requested that helipads be allowed in the district in its initial zoning application. The group is no longer pursuing that use, Mike Maughan, the principal from Smith Entertainment Group who will lead the revitalization zone project, told the City Council on Tuesday.

The plans also include extending the Delta Center’s special signage permits to include the Salt Palace Convention Center Blocks, allowing flat signs, freestanding electronic signs with changeable messages, window signs and special events signs.

The project and its timeline didn’t sit well with the commission, which asked the City Council to reject it. But, acknowledging that the city may move forward with it, the group recommended including some conditions:

  • Abravanel Hall should be retained in its present form, with the possibility of modest renovation — potentially funded through the district. 
  • There should also be a buffer zone around Japantown landmarks, such as the Buddhist Temple, the Japanese Church of Christ and its community garden. 

Commissioners also asked the City to make acommunity benefit addition. Though Salt Lake City recently approved an ordinance requiring that new developments offer a community benefit if a zoning change is in order, the rule doesn’t apply to this project, as it is the city, and not a private property owner, that is submitting the zoning application.

“However, both the Mayor and the City Council, and I think SEG have said that they definitely are committed to providing some community benefits. Working out those details will happen through that participation agreement that SB272 requires,” Norris said, referring to the bill the Legislature passed last general session that paved the way for the tax increase and development of the revitalization zone.

During the public comment portion of the commission meeting, all but an attorney for Smith Entertainment Group commented against the plan.

“Perhaps we should reevaluate if we really want to be like Los Angeles or another city. It seems to me like many LA residents want to come to Salt Lake because of its unique qualities of open space, which are rapidly being eaten up,” Barbara Scowcroft, a Salt Lake City resident, said on Wednesday.

Like her, most advocated to preserve Abravanel Hall and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, which are in the district’s proposed blocks. Though the Smith Entertainment Group assured a helipad is no longer in play, residents still shared their worry about a last-minute addition of one, arguing it would create noise pollution in the concert hall. The potential of more electronic signs and a jumbotron creating light pollution was also a concern.

Ultimately, the main issue with the plan was the tight timeline, some commissioners said. Similar plans may take years to adequately implement.

“The only impact we can have is really to say ‘this is not a plan. Sorry. We’re the planners. This is not a plan,’” Scheer said.

The City Council is expected to discuss the vote once it is transmitted to them. As of Thursday, no comments had been made by council members about the planning commission’s stance.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.