Saturday, July 13, 2024

Allow skyscrapers in proposed downtown sports district? SLC planning commission says no.

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In a discussion that lasted more than an hour, the planning commission rebuffed Smith Entertainment Group’s proposed zoning changes.

(Smith Entertainment Group) A site plan for a proposed downtown sports and entertainment district.

Pro sports magnate Ryan Smith’s proposed downtown sports district is being pushed through too fast and shouldn’t get special treatment due to the Legislature’s priorities, members of the Salt Lake City planning commission said late Wednesday.

Planning commissioners voted unanimously to send the City Council a negative recommendation on a requested zoning amendment that would allow unlimited building heights in areas around the Delta Center for projects that undergo a thorough review process.

The changes were being sought by Smith Entertainment Group, the ownership group behind the Utah Jazz and the Beehive State’s newly acquired National Hockey League franchise. SEG is pursuing a downtown sports district that would transform the two blocks immediately east of the Delta Center.

The city’s current zoning restrictions cap building heights in the area at 75 feet, but special permissions can allow for buildings up to 125 feet — about 11 stories tall.

The commission ultimately decided that the proposed amendment would not align with current downtown planning standards.

Commissioners also noted in their negative recommendation that they want to see a buffer zone to protect Japantown, and for Abravanel Hall to be retained in its current form with some minor renovations funded through a proposed half-a-percentage-point sales tax increase that would benefit the district. The future of Abravanel Hall, SEG officials say, is up to Salt Lake County.

The commission’s vote does not prevent the City Council from approving the changes.

Planning commissioner Bree Scheer said the council will likely vote on the proposal “no matter what we do.”

Commissioner Richard Tuttle, meanwhile, said the process for approving the sports district was moving too quickly.

“It seems like we’re being expected to act relatively suddenly on this,” he said, “and not really with the kinds of information that we need to make a responsible decision — as … a planning commissioner should make.”

City officials have said they’re being forced to act fast on the project because the Legislature set a Sept. 1 deadline for striking a deal on the district.

That argument didn’t move Tuttle.

“I’m not so sure I care that much about the Legislature’s imposed deadline,” he said. “If that’s their deadline, take it to Sandy. Let Sandy deal with this. But the citizens of Salt Lake are going to be ponying up a pretty good-sized chunk of change to support this, and I don’t think that it’s been thought through in a way that makes it possible to be able to answer some of the questions that the community is asking.”

Members of the commission said they were not opposed to a sports district, but planning for such an area needs to take time and include more community input.

“The City Council is politicians, and they will make the decision, and they will make it as a political decision,” Scheer said. “We can only make this from the planning perspective. That’s our job, is to review this as planners. Since we actually don’t have a plan, it’s very hard to approve something when you don’t have anything in front of you. When you’re not really being told what’s happening, nothing’s really set in stone.”

SEG has released few specifics about its plans for the sports district. At Tuesday’s council meeting, an executive with the organization shared a new map that showed a refreshed entrance to the Delta Center, a residential tower and a new hotel.

The Salt Lake City Council is expected to cast a final vote on the district July 2.

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