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Council rejects a moratorium on Sugar House demolitions

Ordinance would have barred alterations on older buildings

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2007 12:07 a.m. MDT

A bid to temporarily stop buildings in the Sugar House Business District from being demolished or significantly altered in the name of historic preservation was quashed Tuesday night by the Salt Lake City Council.

Councilman Soren Simonsen was the lone proponent of an ordinance to revise land-use regulations for the area between 1700 South and 2700 South, and 700 East and 1300 East. The ordinance, which didn't even make it to a vote of the council, called for a six-month moratorium on any demolitions or exterior alterations on buildings more than 50 years old.

The goal was to "preserve the look at feel of the Sugar House Business District as a unique place," according to the ordinance, and ensure that new development "respects the district's historic development and architectural patterns."

In the end, City Council members concluded they did not have enough information about which buildings met the 50-years-old criteria to necessitate a moratorium. Simonsen's motion to approve the ordinance died for lack of a second.

"I don't believe the temporary restriction tonight is the solution," Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said.

A public hearing Tuesday night featured strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Sugar House resident Patricia Sanders, who spoke in favor of the ordinance, called it a "quality-of-life issue."

"You can't put a dollar amount on that," Sanders said. "I'm not against new buildings per se, but I think we need to maintain some connection to our past, and historical buildings are one way to do that."

Others argued that the Sugar House Community Master Plan already addresses historical preservation and that imposing a moratorium would threaten the livelihood of some property owners.

"There are people who have invested a lot of money in development in the district," said Jim Johnson, a property owner.

The city has hired a consultant to conduct surveys of historic buildings within in the district and to develop design guidelines based on those findings.

Love expressed concern during a work session earlier Tuesday about placing temporary land-use restrictions in the district without having those findings in hand.

"To stop development for six months in an area where development is booming is a pretty serious thing," she said.

Simonsen argued that the moratorium would provide the time necessary to determine what buildings need to be preserved and which tools could be used to make that happen.

"There are significant buildings that are or may be threatened while we're waiting to get that information," Simonsen said.

The Sugar House Business District already has lost two buildings that Simonsen said contributed to the historic nature of the area — the Redman Building at 1240 E. 2100 South, which is being converted from commercial to residential, and the building now occupied by Guthrie Bicycle at 803 E. 2100 South.

Alterations made to both of those buildings have "completely eliminated the historical value of the property," he said. "We've lost both of those buildings, both historic structures. We don't know if there are others."

Cheri Coffey, the city's deputy planning director, said there are.

A reconnaissance-level survey of 150 structures in the district this year indicated that five buildings are at least 50 years old and are very historically significant, and another 24 qualify are at least 50 years old and contribute to the historic character of the district, Coffey said.

A complete report of the survey is expected to be presented to city staff this week, she said.

An intensive-level survey of the historic buildings is slated to begin soon and complete by February 2008, Coffey said.

Councilman Eric Jergensen said he was reluctant to support a moratorium when he's not confident that the surveys will be complete and their findings made available to the City Council at the end of the six months.

"I think a moratorium is a hammer when what we need is more of a surgical knife," Jergensen said. "The more information we can get the better...It's awfully difficult to make a decision like this without all of the information."


Sugar House buildings on National Register

Five structures in the Sugar House Business District listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

• The Sugar House Monument, 1100 E. 2100 South

• Irving Junior High School, 1179 E. 2100 South

• The Richardson-Bower Building, 1019 E. 2100 South

• The Sprague Branch Library, 2131 S. Highland Drive

• Sugar House Postal Station, 2155 S. Highland Drive.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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