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Salt Lake’s Delta Center zoning changes meet opposition from Planning Commission

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite tweaks to refine a zoning amendment request tied to a proposed “sports, entertainment, culture and convention district” by the Delta Center, the plan was met with swift opposition from Salt Lake City’s planning advisory board.

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to send a negative recommendation of the plan to the Salt Lake City Council with a few notes. The group contends that the changes don’t align with the city’s downtown plan or existing zone purpose.

The commission also recommended that buildings like Abravanel Hall inside the proposed district are protected. It also suggests that a “buffer zone” is created to protect some pieces outside the district but within the zoning change area, such as the remaining pieces of historic “Japantown.”

The board added that it believes the project is “moving too quickly.”

“The Salt Palace is a terrible block, and I’m happy to see that someone might want to do something to it, but I don’t want to give carte blanche to something that’s so rapidly developed,” said downtown resident and Commissioner Bree Scheer as she proposed the negative recommendation.

The vote does not derail the effort. Salt Lake City planning director Nick Norris pointed out the Salt Lake City Council could still vote on any changes with a negative recommendation attached, but the feedback offers details for the City Council to consider as it weighs the whole project.

Norris presented the commission with an updated version of the proposed changes to the D4-Secondary Central Business District zone requirements before the vote. The city removed a provision that would move heliports from conditional to permitted uses following overwhelming opposition plus clarification from Smith Entertainment Group that it doesn’t intend to construct one in its plans.

The main takeaways are that it would:

  • Increase allowed building height from 375 feet to 600 feet within the zone, though a design review would be required on any building over 75 feet. Norris said Smith Entertainment Group had requested a review at 400 feet.
  • Consider stadiums and commercial parking lots as permitted uses.
  • Extend the arena sign overlay out toward the Salt Palace Convention Center. Norris said the current Salt Palace sign overlay is already similar to the Delta Center, so this would make a uniform zone. It doesn’t want off-premise advertising allowed sign overlay — essentially billboards — like Smith Entertainment Group requested.

The commission was quick to point out that 600 feet would be about 150 feet taller than any current building in Salt Lake City. Commissioner Aimee Burrows questioned why the whole D4 zoning area should go through major changes to accommodate three targeted blocks, as well.

Residents also spoke out in favor of protecting places like Abravenel Hall, mirroring the two City Council public hearings on the entire district plan.

However, the speed of the project appeared to be the biggest concern. Commissioners said it took years of planning to complete some of the other major zoning changes that the city recently approved. The proposed changes in front of them only began in April, about the same time Utah officially landed a National Hockey League team.

“It seems like we’re being expected to act relatively suddenly on this and not really with the kinds of information that we need to make a responsible decision,” said Commissioner Richard Tuttle. “The citizens of Salt Lake are ponying up a pretty good-sized chunk of change to support this, and I don’t think that it’s been thought through.”

All of this led to a negative recommendation.

Norris agreed that the proposed zoning change is “not a typical planning process,” but it aligns with the imposed deadlines from this year’s bill that created the revitalization zone and the process that sparked the request.

Under the law, Salt Lake City has until Sept. 1 to reach an agreement with Smith Entertainment Group on a plan. That’s also when the City Council will have to vote on a proposed 0.5% sales tax increase tied to the project. It has until the end of the year to approve any zoning changes, according to Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Victoria Petro.

Petro said on Tuesday the City Council could vote to “send something to the state to see if they approve it” as early as next month, referencing the agreement that the state needs to approve. A proposed tax and any zoning changes would likely be considered after that.

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