Salt Lake City approves affordable housing incentives, 'Fleet Block' rezone as it seeks density

06 December, 2023

An aerial view of Salt Lake City from the Sugar House neighborhood on Nov. 28. Salt Lake City Council members voted Tuesday to approve sweeping zoning changes in favor of affordable housing. An aerial view of Salt Lake City from the Sugar House neighborhood on Nov. 28. Salt Lake City Council members voted Tuesday to approve sweeping zoning changes in favor of affordable housing. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)




SALT LAKE CITY — After months — and even years — of lengthy discussions, Salt Lake City leaders voted Tuesday to make major zoning changes in order to add more housing options amid rising home costs.

The council also voted to rezone its "Fleet Block," the old vehicle hub that became a major focus of social justice movements after large murals depicting victims of police violence were painted on the sides of the building. The measure seeks to make the area an "inclusive community asset," with additional housingand density in the fast-growing city.

"I am proud of the city council's thoughtful discussion and action (Tuesday) to advance initiatives that will generate transformational change in our city and support residents and visitors for generations," said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall in a statement following the meeting.

The votes followed Utah Gov. Spencer Cox's focus on tackling housing affordability in his proposed 2025 fiscal year budget, earlier in the day, which he said could be done by increasing housing stock.

New affordable housing incentives

Utah's capital city is believed to have more than 200,000 residents, for the first time in history, after it started to have a resurgence in the 1990s, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

While Redfin notes there have been some drops in home prices in the area, it found the median home still costs about $510,000, as of October. That's about a 41% increase just over the past five years. The cost of renting is also up significantly.

Salt Lake City leaders have mulled major citywide rezoning changes for some time, to keep up with growth and combat living costs, drawing mixed reactions from residents. Reforms were proposed as a part of affordable housing incentives amid these debates, which the council approved in a 6-1 vote Tuesday night.

The plan allows for larger structures, allowing for one to three extra stories in many areas that allow multi-family housing. It also strips density requirements within residential multi-family districts for projects providing affordable housing, according to the city.

More housing types will be allowed in some additional commercial areas of the city, as well. The measure also removes some of the building approval processes in an effort to speed up the permit and construction process.

There are also reduced parking requirements in some cases.

The incentives were also met with mixed views as the council considered it all. David Leta, second vice chairman of the East Bench Community Council, said the council's board is aware of the housing need, but residents at an October public hearing were concerned about what they called a "one-size-fits-all" approach to it.

"And what you get with one-size-fits-all, is a bunch of poorly dressed neighborhoods that don't fit," he said. "What you need, in our opinion, is a much more tailored and nuanced approach to affordable housing."

But city officials say they believe the measures will help bring down the rising cost of housing and make the city more affordable as it continues to grow. It wouldn't end single-family housing, but create a mix of housing types throughout the city

It follows what the city already approved this year to increase downtown building heights and allow for more accessory dwelling units. Salt Lake City Councilman Alejandro Puy said he expects there will be more "gentle density" in some areas of the city as a part of the new incentives.

"This ordinance is a big deal for the city — for the future of the city," he said, prior to the vote. "Density is not a bad word. ... We are growing and we need to accommodate the growth in a manner that allows for density in all parts of our city."

Council Chairman Darin Mano called it a "big win" in the city's efforts to fight "rising housing costs and insufficient housing stock," as well.

"Encouraging and making it potentially less costly for developers to include affordable units in their projects will help increase our housing stock and curb displacement," he said.

SLC Neighbors for More Neighbors, a group that advocates for accessible housing, issued a statement Wednesday applauding the incentives as "an important step in creating opportunity in every neighborhood." Kristina Robb, chairwoman of the East Liberty Park Community Organization, said she believes the plan offers enough "safeguards" to ensure that new density is also affordable.

What's next for 'Fleet Block'?

The council also voted, unanimously, to rezone the old Fleet Block property, completing a process that began in 2019. The property, located between 800 and 900 South and from 300 to 400 West, will be rezoned into different pieces, including a mix of new and old form-based mix zones and a new public square.

The property's future was delayed while city officials figured out how to balance out how the property changed in 2020. Its primary building became a "center of healing" in the social justice movement. Large murals depicting people who died by police — in cases later deemed justified or unjustified — were painted on the primary building's sides

City leaders said Tuesday they intend to keep the area as an "inclusive community asset" with affordable housing and commercial spaces on top of the public square as they redevelop the 10-acre block.

A few residents and relatives of people depicted in the murals pleaded with the city council Tuesday to make sure the city follows through on its pledge last yearto keep the area as a "center of diversity and inclusion," and a hub for local minority-owned businesses.

"That space could and should be used to help those residents who are struggling with high costs of housing and food," said resident Levy Woodruff. "Maybe (include) a non-congregate emergency shelter, maybe permanent supportive housing (or) maybe a food pantry."

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