The Salt Lake City Council passed "in concept" an ordinance controlling downtown building demolitions and parking lot construction, alternately hailed as the salvation and the demise of the city's central business district.
Before giving final approval to the ordinance, which appeared only in final draft form before the council Tuesday afternoon, the council agreed to consider the measure in their Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday.City planners and many downtown businessmen said the measure is needed to preserve the "urban fabric" of the Salt Lake downtown. Others, including Questar Corp., said the ordinance would usher in an era of downtown decline.
"This is the beginning of the final demise of downtown Salt Lake City," said Clyde Heiner, senior vice president of Questar, which wants to raze the old Utah-Idaho Building, 155-157 S. State, and pave the lot for parking.
Zions Bank, in cooperation with the development company Gerald D. Hines Interests, wants to destroy four buildings at 20-31 W. First South and 116-118 S. Main. Both demolitions are stalled pending a decision on the ordinance.
Questar could be exempted from the ordinance, which would allow the planning commission to deny building demolitions and strictly regulate parking lot design, under a draft of the ordinance.
Mayor Palmer DePaulis said Monday after meeting with Questar officials the corporation wanted an exemption from the ordinance. But Tuesday, DePaulis and Questar officials said there was "miscommunication" at their meeting and Questar said they wanted no exemption.
Questar, whose subsidiaries include Interstate Land Corp. and Mountain Fuel Supply Co., doesn't want its credibility tarnished because of perceived special treatment from the city, spokesman Curt Burnett said.
"We remain totally opposed to the ordinance," Heiner said in a heated exchange with the council. He said the expense of complying with the ordinance would force businesses into suburbs, taking downtown shoppers with them.
"And so we attract them (downtown) by tearing down buildings and putting in parking lots," councilwoman Sydney Fonnesbeck asked Heiner, adding "the most vibrant cities in the United States have this ordinance."
Several businessmen opposed the measure because they said provisions restricting demolitions and parking lot development would make downtown property difficult to sell. But Council Chairman Tom Godrey took issue with the objections.
"It does not prevent demolitions. It does not prevent parking lots. All it does is set up a process . . . so that the community is involved in some way in making decisions for the future of downtown," he said.
After DePaulis announced Monday the compromise grandfathering Questar out of the ordinance, the Newspaper Agency Corp. applied for a permit allowing it to demolish the old Tampico Restaurant, 150 S. Regent St.
That permit is also held in abeyance pending a vote on the ordinance. But under one version of the ordinance, NAC as well as Questar and Zions could be exempted from the ordinance.
The council voted 5-2, with members W.M. "Willie" Stoler and Florence Bittner opposing, to send the measure back to committee. Fonnesbeck made the motion for the vote, adding the approval-in-concept clause.
The ordinance would affect only downtown buildings and makes demolitions and parking lots subject to Planning Commission approval, which would require post-demolition plans be consistent with a "desirable development pattern."
Evidence that parking space is needed and that the buildings to be demolished are not economically viable must be presented to the commission. Parking lots must have a minimum of 18 square feet of landscaping for each stall.