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Holladay Journal

Rezone amendment seeks to return neighborhood to low-density designation

Sep 22, 2020 02:34PM ● By Zak Sonntag

The area in question being considered for a “downzone.” (Screenshot)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

Holladay City officials have considered innumerable rezone applications over the years, ranging from mid-sized developments, like the forthcoming Weyburn Retreat on Spring Lane, to small-parcel homeowners looking to add a single additional unit. In almost all cases applicants seek to increase housing, yet councilmembers approve such rezones sparingly, wary of drawing ire in a community with reverence for its rural history and where the word “density” can feel like an expletive.

Now the city finds itself weighing the merits of a unique “downzone” application that would preclude certain levels of density on an eight-acre area in the heart of Holladay.

“We are a stable neighborhood under threat of development. We do not want to change the character of our neighborhood. The current district is contrary to the land-use ordinance to protect established neighborhoods,” said Holly Richards, a resident representing a group of 14 petition applicants at a public hearing in September. “Right now the door to potential higher density is open just a crack.” 

The petitioners want to slam that door shut. 

The city is calling it the “Richards amendment,” which aims to modify an 8.3-acre area in the vicinity of Kentucky Avenue and Clearview, between the So-Ho food truck area and the Holladay Village, by shrinking the boundaries of the Medium Density Residential Stable district (MDR-S) in which it’s currently located, and which allows up to 16 units per acre. The area consists of 23 parcels of mostly single-family homes, and if the application is approved, the lots will be redesignated a Low Density Residential-Stable (LDR-S), similar to the status it held prior the city’s revamped 2016 General Plan, placing the cap at five units per acre. 

Petitioners argue that the MDR-S district does not make sense for the area because it contradicts existing land-use patterns and conflicts with the “stable neighborhoods” provision of the general plan. They also argue the area is ill-suited for higher density because it’s removed from major traffic arterials, one of the guiding conditions for multi-family development zoning.

City staff, albeit, do not view the rezone favorably. The city’s official staff report argues that the rezone will place undue limitations on its ability to offer a “transitional option” around the Holladay Village zone.

“Removing the flexibility of options pertaining to future development decision making or responding to growth pressure (if any), is not an envisioning plan” intended by the General Plan, the staff report said. “Sound options in a General Plan are a city planning tool for anticipating inherent social changes that inevitably occur over time.” 

The staff believes that the MDR-S district abutting the Holladay Village accommodates potential future growth without jeopardizing the patterns that make the area unique and desirable. They worry such moves may hamstring the city’s ability to meet the needs of SB 34, a state law that requires cities to expand their housing portfolios. 

Although the staff report find’s itself at odds with the Planning Commission, who heard the Richards amendment in August and forwarded a recommendation of approval. The commission decided that the decisive factor was a continuity of current land-use, under the logic that the current land use (single family residential) is “stable and not obsolete,” and believes it will remain so for at least for the remaining lifespan of the current General Plan, which is slated to be the city’s guiding document for another 15 years. “Redevelopment toward medium density should only be considered when the existing low-density usage becomes obsolete,” said commissioner Jim Carter.

Still, the planning commission is a recommending body, and rezone authority lies exclusively with the city council. The council is set to vote on the rezone amendment in October. There is indication that the city may follow the planning commission’s lead, although the outcome is not certain.

“I have a problem with clawing back to LDRS for the buffer zone because there is a purpose to the buffer zone. If this sliver does it, then another sliver does it, then another, and then there’s no buffer zone around the Village. So what is the precedent?” said councilmember Paul Fotheringham. “So maybe we can consider [a compromise zone] that doesn’t have the risk of taller buildings but still provides a buffer.” 

Councilmember Dan Gibbons weighed in and conceded the logic of a buffer but said that the history of the Village zone area bears on their decision. “If we’d have made the Village center in an open field I wouldn’t have a problem with this. But we carved it out of a legacy neighborhood with homes 40, 50, 60, 80 years old.”