SALT LAKE CITY — What's worse: a decrepit building or an empty lot?
In the case of the abandoned Ute Car Wash at 863 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City officials have leaned in favor of the latter after residents complained for more than two years about the rundown structure.
Joining with Sugar House Community Council leadership Wednesday, Mayor Jackie Biskupski and City Councilwoman Lisa Adams celebrated the demolition of the car wash.
The demolition permit took 18 months of department collaboration, legal navigation, and a never before used tool within the mayor's arsenal to approve, despite persistent neighborhood demands to tear down the Sugar House blemish.
"This deteriorating structure has been an eyesore in our beautiful community for far too long," Biskupski said. "It has stood as a hulking reminder to inefficient bureaucracy, a piece of the past that neighbors and owners wanted to put behind them."
For years, the car wash could not be leveled because the property owner, Nupetco Associates, didn't have a redevelopment plan — which was still missing as of Wednesday. A city ordinance approved in 2012 prohibits buildings from being demolished such a plan is in place to replace it.
"I have been trying to push a dialogue with the city to find a solution to this for a little over 20 months," said Amy Barry, chairwoman of the Sugar House Community Council. "And I didn't really get anywhere. In fact, I was told repeatedly, 'There's just nothing we can do about it.'"
City officials passed the ordinance in wake of the 2008 recession, in reaction to the "Sugar Hole," a nickname residents gave a stalled development property at the corner of 2100 S. Highland Drive that sat vacant for years before it eventually gave rise to apartments and eateries.
Aiming to prevent more "Sugar Holes," the City Council created the ordinance, thinking old buildings would be preferable to empty lots.
But soon after Biskupski took office this year, she said she ordered her administration to find a way to deal with the car wash lot. City attorneys, the Department of Community and Neighborhood Development and building officials found a provision in city code that allows the mayor to appoint an administrative committee to issue the demolition permit based on safety concerns.
Building, fire and police officials then studied the car wash site and determined it posed enough public risk to forego the city's demolition permitting process.
"What we found is that by requiring buildings to stay up, they end up being locations for drug use and other things that are going on that we don't want happening in our city," Biskupski said.
Adams acknowledged that there are other "eyesores" within Salt Lake City that need to be addressed, including the Zephyr Club at West Temple and 300 South, and the Yardstick Building near State Street and 300 South.
That's why city leaders are having second thoughts on the 2012 demolition law. Now, the City Council is looking at creating a new ordinance, Adams said.
"It's a philosophical question in terms of what we prefer: scraped, empty ground or falling down buildings," she said. "After having enough falling down buildings for a few years, we're starting to decide maybe we'd rather have empty space waiting to have something developed."
Biskupski said she's "grateful" to the City Council for tackling the issue, which she said has been a "learning process."
"We'll see where it all lands," the mayor said. "But I believe when the community is heard, we as a government are going to be responsive. This is a prime example of that."