SUGAR HOUSE Sugar House fans on Tuesday begged the Salt Lake City Council to save their eclectic neighborhood from a development they worry will bring a dulling down of a vibrant community.
The council, meeting at Sugar House's Nibley Park Elementary School for its monthly neighborhood outreach meeting, heard from about a dozen people Tuesday evening and received a thick stack of comment cards from scores more. Most wanted to talk about the intersection of 2100 South and Highland Drive.
The block to the southwest of that intersection, known as the Granite block, is home to several unique local businesses the Free Speech Zone, Artopia, Blue Boutique, Orion's Music, Sugar House Coffee, Pib's Exchange and others but many residents and business owners worry plans for a redevelopment of the area will do away with its funky feel.
In December 2005, the council approved a zoning change on the block to allow for buildings as tall as seven or eight stories. Landowners, including Craig Mecham Management and California-based Red Mountain Retail Group, say they have plans to upgrade the area, though details have not yet been announced.
In February, businesses on the block began receiving eviction notices.
Orion's Music owner Andrew Fletcher on Tuesday said the zoning change "steamrolled over the wishes of the neighborhood."
One woman, who lives farther west in Salt Lake City but said she regularly shops on the Granite block, asked, "Why do we need to rip down that nice little Haight-Ashbury-type of street to put up more office space and more retail space that is not going to be used?"
Landowners hoping to redevelop the Granite block have told the Deseret Morning News they have no intention to change the area's mood in fact, they hope to enhance it and that they need to give it a face-lift because some buildings are out of shape.
Eric Nelson of Red Mountain said his plans would see "90 to 95 percent" of the area's buildings renovated but remaining where they are.
The developers say the local businesses currently located there could be part of the new development, but many business owners say they doubt they'll be able to afford it.
Simonsen, who tried unsuccessfully to revisit the zoning change shortly after taking office a little more than a year ago, has said he doubts the redevelopment can be stopped. But that doesn't mean the city can't guide it in a way that would preserve its character.
On Tuesday, he asked the council to consider a handful of possible actions and received tentative support for his ideas.
Among them would be looking into ways to make use of a citywide study of historical areas currently under way. The study, expected to be finished in about a year, will point out areas that need protection as historic, and Simonsen wants to be ready with ways to respond if the Granite block is named one of those historic areas.
The council was generally receptive to the idea, and it will be addressed in more detail at a future meeting.
Simonsen also wants the city to consider aiding local businesses currently on the block with loans or grants that would help them reopen on the block once it is redeveloped.
He said "various elements" of that idea will be presented to the council in the coming months.
Councilman Dave Buhler said money similarly doled out in the past was typically to help offset city action, such as light-rail construction work, so the idea in this case might be a little unusual. Still, he said he was supportive of the concept."Sugar House is vital, not just to the neighborhood but to our city," Councilman Eric Jergensen said, adding the city will find ways to protect it.