Like the other two City Council races in Salt Lake City this year, the race for District 7 features one Democrat and one Republican.
But unlike the other two, the battle for Sugar House is not taking a partisan tone. This race does, however, feature two candidates with decidedly different focuses. Both are looking to take over for well-liked Councilman Dale Lambert, who declined to seek re-election this year.
On the one side is Soren Simonsen, the registered Democrat, who is focusing on planning and zoning. He hopes to someday zone big-box retailers out of Sugar House and make the area even more walkable and small business-friendly than it already is. Through smart planning and cluster development, Simonsen says the Salt Lake County region can help lower area pollution, thus protecting the environment and open space. Simonsen, an architect, says he is the candidate who can work with other municipalities to promote comprehensive, countywide planning changes.
On the other side is Gary Poulson, the registered Republican, who is less focused on zoning issues and is making public safety his No. 1 priority. He wants more police and a better neighborhood-watch organization. The two big issues he wants addressed are speeding through neighborhoods and car prowls, where thieves move block to block at night, breaking into cars and swiping their contents.
"He's pushing more open space and parks and air pollution, which is fine, I have nothing against that, but I'm looking more at public safety and looking out for the neighborhoods," said Poulson, a small businessman.
Like other places in Utah, the big hot-button issue in Sugar House these days is Wal-Mart. The retail giant has purchased the Kmart near 2100 South and 2100 East and has said it likely will open a store there in a few years. The parcel is zoned for big boxes so there's little the city can do to thwart the Wal-Mart. But still, residents aren't happy. They fear traffic woes and other problems often pinned on Wal-Mart stores.
The hubbub has led Simonsen to say he wants to zone all big boxes out of Sugar House. He says big-box stores usually have about a 20- to 30-year shelf life. When those big boxes turn over, Simonsen wants to have redevelopment plans and zoning in place to make sure another big box can't come in and take over.
"In general, big boxes are a mistake," Simonsen said. "They're certainly detrimental to the beauty and livability of the community. They generate a lot of traffic and congestion but they don't physically accommodate an attractive environment for shoppers."
Poulson, who lives right by the future Wal-Mart site, hasn't proposed anything so radical but is concerned about traffic. He has suggested making the retail giant pay to improve access to the store from I-80. Or, Poulson suggests, perhaps the city could close off access to the strip mall's parking lot on Parleys Way and that could help reduce traffic woes.
"The big concern is traffic issues," he said. "People don't want traffic coming down Parleys Way."