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Will Layton’s Sill’s Cafe survive redevelopment of downtown?

Patrons of the 50-year-old eatery don’t want it to go

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LAYTON — Bret Biddulph used to ditch his morning algebra class at Davis High to go get scones at Sill's Cafe on South Main.

Now, 10 years later, he's there most Saturday mornings with a few friends to drink coffee and eat "great, cheap food."

The white cafe looks more like a mobile home than a restaurant, and that's what has city leaders concerned. While it may be good business for Layton, the city sees it as an eyesore right next to the interstate, an eyesore that's becoming harder to ignore.

Because Layton is starting the process of redeveloping its old downtown, the South Main/Old Fort Lane area, the city will have to decide what to do with the 50-year-old Sill's and other area businesses like it.

Sill's, and Doug and Emmy's Restaurant across the street, might be old enough to be considered historical landmarks — although the suggestion drew some laughs from City Council members at a recent meeting. If the two are not named landmarks, the restaurants would be unprotected in the city's new redevelopment district.

City leaders said property owners in the area would have first right to develop — the operative word being "develop." If land owners choose not to, or their plans don't fit the city's yet-to-be-revealed plan for downtown, the property would be condemned and sold to the city to be demolished.

For now, because no redevelopment specifics have been put in place, no one's sure if Sill's will fit into Layton's new plan for old downtown. City leaders will have to decide which businesses to leave, which to sell and, in the case of Sill's and Doug and Emmy's, which to declare historical city gems.

Biddulph sits in a booth right next to the kitchen. Across from him is the counter where regulars sit on stools, chatting it up with the waitresses and the owner, Shelly Sill.

"You go into some other restaurant and you don't know anyone," said Fred Weeks Sr., who's sitting next his son, Fred Jr. "You come in here, and it's all friends, all people you know."

Fred Jr. calls it the "old-home atmosphere." He said it's a lot of what makes the restaurant so appealing. He said the city can do what it wants to old downtown, as long as there's a Sill's Cafe to come to afterward.

Talk of revitalizing South Main began with the Utah Department of Transportation. The area between South Main and Old Fort Lane in Layton is on the state's 10-year list to receive an I-15 interchange.

But even before UDOT sets a date to build the interchange, city leaders want to have a plan in place to pretty-up that area of Layton.

Right now Layton officials are more interested in having control over the redevelopment than what the redevelopment actually ends up being.

"We're not worried about image; we're worried about substance," said City Manager Alex Jensen.

City leaders are also not worried about trends — including the current tendency by other cities to pursue theme-oriented, often old-fashioned, downtowns that are easy to spot.

In redeveloping South Main, Jensen explained that rather than build some quaint, showy downtown, he's interested in having something residents and businesses can use.

"The idea of having an identifiable downtown is oversold," Jensen said. He said businesses in that part of town are established, and most are doing well. He said he wants to simply preserve and enhance what is already there.

So does that mean age-old businesses like Sill's and Doug and Emmy's stay or get the boot?

"Leave it alone," said Dave Vermillion, Biddulph's companion and a regular who has been eating breakfast at Sill's for 20 years.

Owner Shelley Sill, whose husband bought the cafe from his father and cafe founder Golden Sill, believes Sill's Cafe is a historical landmark. She's says it's been a part of Layton's culture for years.

"I don't want to see them tear it down," she said.

But Layton city officials say decisions like that are still a way off.

The first step in the redevelopment plan is a survey of the potential redevelopment area, then a blight study. In order for a city to legally redevelop an area, part of the area has to be blighted, or officially declared rundown.

Seth Butterfield, Layton's director of economic development, said the study should be completed two weeks into January. It's then that the public would be able to voice its concerns over what area is blighted and what might happen to it.

State law says that the redevelopment survey has to identify at least three blighted elements of the area in order to create a redevelopment plan, said Butterfield.

"Now it's time to get serious," said City Planner Scott Carter. He said it's time to make downtown Layton a "destination location," a place where people can go and not only shop, but just hang out if they want.

E-MAIL: rrogers@desnews.com