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Property owners criticize U. housing plan

Would 150-unit project create a glut in area?

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A mixed-use development proposed for the southwest corner of the University of Utah campus has some neighboring residents whirling.

Although the project is pitched to be a "win-win" for everyone, homeowners in the area say buildings containing nearly 150 new condominiums or town homes would compete for their already slim numbers of renters and buyers.

"The university should stick to education and not housing," said Kendall Phillips, who owns two properties on University Street, which is adjacent to the proposed development at 500 South and 1400 East. "If they do go into housing, I would hope it's student housing because that is within their mission."

The U.'s proposed Universe Project, which would further develop eight acres of a surface parking lot, would essentially include "affordable housing for entry-level faculty," said Mike Perez, associate vice president of facilities management at the U. Additional elements of the mixed-use development would include 40,000 square feet of building space for administrative and continuing education functions, as well as 85,000 square feet for entertainment purposes and at least 500 parking stalls.

Phillips said that the "sweeping crisis" already hitting the housing market in the Salt Lake City area would make the new units hard to sell.

"Do we really want the U. to be in the landlord business?" he asked the Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission during their public meeting Wednesday. "The economic storm will kill my rent," Phillips said.

Other homeowners in the area expressed concern about market impact and how new buildings would affect the historic housing district and nearby businesses.

"We just can't have everything everywhere all of the time," said Cindy Cromer. She suggested that if building were to happen, that it be closest to the stadium's "non-attractive underpinnings."

"It's no joy to live right next to a TRAX station anyway," Cromer said, adding that anything built too close to existing homes would "cast a shadow over the historic landmarks."

Perez said the most attractive element and greatest value of the property is the existing TRAX station, which would allow for potentially robust transportation options to and from the development.

"We want to make major use of that mass transit," he said.

One of the major concerns of the largely commuter student population is the sacrifice of available parking. The university's request for qualifications says there are 941 existing parking spaces on the site or portions in close proximity to the site. Perez said every effort would be made to ensure that parking availability is preserved.

"We don't want to lose any parking spaces in that area," he said, adding that developers would be encouraged to think of employing parking "structures" and also provide funding for at least 130 parking stalls at a location to be determined by the university.

Preserving view corridors for the Rice-Eccles Tower and stadium, as well as aesthetic value, are serious and important considerations for the project, Perez said.

The project would occupy state-owned land and does not need approval by city officials. However, Perez has said it is essential because of its location that all interested parties are included in the planning process. The Universe Project will be discussed at Salt Lake's Planning Commission meeting on April 9 at 5:45 p.m. Interested and qualified developers are asked to submit their proposals to the U. by the April 17 deadline. More information can be found at utah.edu, by searching "Universe Project."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com