Salt Lake City has seen it before: An eager developer begins demolishing buildings, runs into complications and stops work at the construction site. Neighboring businesses and residents are left with an eyesore of rubble, craters and mounds of dirt for weeks, months or even years.
It happens too often, says Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen.
The Marmalade development in the west Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Emigration Court apartments and condominiums on 500 East between 300 and 400 South, and the former site of Bill and Nada's Cafe at 479 S. 600 East all are examples of speedy demolitions to make way for seemingly imminent projects.
"And as is often the nature of complicated projects, they take awhile to pull together," Simonsen said.
Another example of this rush-to-crush phenomenon mars the eastern portion of the Granite Furniture Block in Sugar House at 2100 South and Highland Drive.
In January, Craig Mecham Investments began demolishing buildings at the site in preparation to build two seven-story buildings with a mix of retail, office and residential space.
Mecham used what Simonsen calls a loophole in the approval process for demolitions that allows developers to submit a landscaping plan and begin work while the project continues along the path to final approval.
Simonsen says the city's intent in granting demolition permits through landscaping plans is to get rid of blighted properties or structures that pose a health risk and have something more attractive in their place.
"Some of these landscaping plans have been used as kind of a back-door approval process for demolitions, and they have created some long-term challenges and hardships," he said.
Simonsen currently is working with the City Council planning subcommittee to eliminate the landscaping option for gaining a demolition permit.
"That's something (the City Council) can address legislatively," he said.
City ordinance for the plans stipulates when landscaping on a site must begin. In Mecham's case, that date passed two weeks ago, but no landscaping has commenced, according to Orion Goff, city building official.
Goff sent a letter to Mecham on May 9 informing the developer he had been obligated to begin landscaping on April 30. Failure to comply soon, the letter states, could result in legal action or forfeiture of the $20,000 bond posted by the developer as part of the agreement.
City staff and attorneys met with the Mecham Investments officials Wednesday, Goff said, resulting in the developers asking for a few more days to determine how they will proceed.
Calls to Craig Mecham Investments on Wednesday and Thursday were not returned.
Demolition work on the project stalled when it was discovered that a wall of one of the buildings being torn down shares support structure with a neighboring building not owned by Mecham. The developers are in negotiations with the owner of the abutting building to solve the problem, Goff said.
In the meantime, the city has asked that the developers clean up some of the debris from the demolition and make sure the fence surrounding the construction site is secure. City officials have fielded complaints from Sugar House residents and business owners that the site has been unreasonably messy and that portions of the fence have been missing.
"They've agreed to be sure the fence stays intact," Goff said, "and they've also agreed to clean up construction debris that is left on site from the demolition."
Goff said it's unlikely that the city would resort to using the developer's bond money, saying that has never happened in the four years he's been with the city."We expect to see some documents from (Mecham) immediately to keep this project moving forward," he said. "It doesn't appear to me the project is going to get stalled out."
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