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Mayor Biskupski approves demolition of 'eyesore' building holding up Other Side Academy expansion

An aerial view of a building on 46 South 700 East in Salt Lake City. The Other Side Academy is vying for permission to knock it down in order to expand its life-saving operations.
An aerial view of a building on 46 S. 700 E. in Salt Lake City. The Other Side Academy is vying for permission to knock it down in order to expand their life-saving operations.
Provided by Boyd Matheson

SALT LAKE CITY — After more than a year of struggle, the vocational training school Other Side Academy has received approval to demolish a decaying and dilapidated building to make room for up to 100 new beds for those in need.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski on Tuesday evening signed an appeal overturning the city's Historic Landmark Commission's previous decision denying The Other Side Academy's demolition permit application months ago.

"We are absolutely thrilled," said Dave Durocher, managing director of The Other Side Academy on Wednesday. "We are super proud of Mayor Biskupski for deliberating as long as she did, taking the time to make a decision I know wasn't easy for her."

When The Other Side Academy, a nonprofit that provides vocational training for people cycling on-and-off the streets and in-and-out of the prison system, bought the home at 46 S. 700 East about a year and a half ago, the academy's leaders didn't realize how difficult it would be to tear down a home that had been vacant for more than 15 years, Durocher said. But complications arose because it was a historic building.

"It's a complete eyesore," Durocher said. "The roof is literally collapsing and the floors are collapsing on top of each other. Literally, there are hundreds of bottles and buckets of human waste inside — it's just completely deplorable."

Durocher said over the years, squatters have lived in the abandoned home, which is also strewn with dead animals and drug paraphernalia. He said asbestos has made it so the property can only be redeveloped after a complete tear-down.

But when Other Side officials first applied for an emergency demolition permit back in late 2016, the request was denied and held up because the city hadn't yet formed an appeal board, Durocher said. Other Side then made a request through the city's Historic Landmark Commission but was also denied because the board found it only met five of the six standards required for the permit because of a technical zoning issue.

Late last month, Other Side officials held an appeal hearing with Biskupski, who reviewed and approved the appeal Tuesday. The mayor overturned the Historic Landmark Commission's denial, determining that "essentially undisputed evidence demonstrating the deteriorated and hazardous condition of the structure itself means that the structure cannot be reused," she said in her letter answering the appeal.

Biskupski has used her administrative powers before to allow demolition of an eyesore, such as the abandoned Ute Car Wash that once existed in Sugar House. The mayor said on KSL's "The Doug Wright Show" on Wednesday that the process has been a "very useful tool," but "when you're dealing with historical buildings, it becomes a little more complicated."

"People are pleased," Biskupski said. "We have been wanting this."

Durocher called it a "long and arduous" process, "but in the end the right decision was made."

Now, Other Side Academy officials will spend the next few weeks seeking a company to demolish the building, and start the process to build an up-to 100-bed structure, like an apartment complex or condo, to house more students, Durocher said.

Durocher thanked the mayor for approving the appeal, adding "I think she'll be happy with what we do with the property and how many lives will be affected by it." He said the decision will help "get more people off the streets and stay out of jail."

Biskupski also applauded the work of The Other Side Academy, along with other efforts to reform the county's homeless delivery system and work to help keep the Rio Grande area around the downtown homeless shelter under control.

"In all the work we're doing with the state and the county, every piece of the puzzle regarding changing our system here and re-creating a much more successful way to move people from homelessness or even help people prevent that occurring in their lives, we have to come at this from every possible angle that we uncover, and this is one of those pieces," she said.