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A Sugar House skyscraper? Developer seeks rezone to pave way for tall buildings

The proposed rezone would increase the maximum building height in the area from 105 feet to as much as 305 feet under certain conditions

SHARE A Sugar House skyscraper? Developer seeks rezone to pave way for tall buildings
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The Sugar House business district is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Downtown Salt Lake City seems to be ever-evolving with new skyscrapers breaking into its skyline on a regular basis, but could the city’s next skyscraper be located at the heart of another business district in the city?

That’s something that the Harbor Bay Ventures appears to be seeking to do with a property it owns in Sugar House. The developer submitted an application to the city last week asking to rezone its property located at 1095 E. 2100 South from Sugar House Business District to something it calls the Sugar House Business District – Sustainability District.

The proposed rezone would increase the maximum building height in the area from 105 feet to as much as 305 feet under certain conditions. One of the documents it submitted, available as a public record, indicates that the developer may build a skyscraper on the 1.22-acre Sugar House property if the rezone requestion is approved by the city.

“Salt Lake City is experiencing a housing crisis that demands a bold response,” the Illinois-based developer wrote in a letter to the Salt Lake Planning Commission, referencing the “bold response” included in the city’s latest housing plan.

Nick Norris, Salt Lake City’s planning director, told KSL.com that the city’s planning division is still reviewing the application to make sure that it meets all of the city’s requirements.

While the division has no official view on the matter yet, he says the request is unique enough that he expects that it will garner plenty of interest as it goes through the city’s length review process.

“I think anytime somebody’s asking to increase the allowed height by 200 feet, that’s a pretty eye-opening proposal and something that we haven’t seen before as a city,” he said. “It’s definitely a first, and I think it’s going to be controversial.”

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The Sugar House business district is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

A proposed new zone

The company’s proposal requests that buildings exceed 105 feet, and possibly reach up to 305 feet, as long as 90% of the required parking for the building is within a parking structure and the building’s “superstructure must consist of mass timber and/or another renewable material that structurally supports 65% or greater of the approved building height.”

In addition, the building must have a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating of at least “gold” or equivalent to it. It also must have a setback of at least 5 feet or some “architectural feature that can deflect snow and ice from falling directly onto a sidewalk, midblock walkway, or other public space.”

There are seven secondary provisions that it lists, such as that it’s located within 1,500 feet of a light rail transit stop or has at least one publicly available parking spot per 1,000 square feet of commercial floor space. The project is required to have at least three of these objectives to qualify for the higher building height.

The exterior of the Wells Fargo building in the Sugar House business district is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. Harbor Bay Ventures acquired the property from Wells Fargo earlier this year. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

It appears that any changes would begin with Harbor Bay Ventures’ Sugar House property.

The company acquired it from Wells Fargo earlier this year and announced in February that would seek to replace “an underutilized office building” with a residential building, according to Multi-Housing News. Company officials told the outlet that they expected the building would be completely vacated by the end of the year before any demolition or construction.

Building Salt Lake, which first reported the rezoning petition on Monday, wrote that Harbor Bay Ventures’ conceptual rendering for a skyscraper in Sugar House was drawn up by a Chicago-based architecture firm that primarily works on high-rise and mass timber buildings.

KSL.com was unable to reach the developer for comment, but company officials wrote in their letter to the city’s planning commission that they believe the Sugar House location “lends itself well to a higher density project” because of its proximity to public transit and other neighborhood services.

“With this proposed rezone in conjunction with the (proposed) text amendment, Salt Lake City has found a partner to alleviate housing instability and create a sustainable, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood with access to jobs, transit, green space and basic amenities,” the company wrote.

A 305-foot building wouldn’t crack the top 10 in Salt Lake City, but it would be the tallest outside of its downtown core.

The forthcoming Astra Tower took the crown this year as construction crews placed the final beam on the 450-foot building, but the City Council approved amendments to its downtown and near-downtown business corridors earlier this year that could allow for even taller downtown buildings to increase density and potentially improve housing stock and affordability.

The Sugar House proposal, while not something the city may have envisioned on its own, is just the latest example of how these types of density and building height conversations may spill out into other parts of the city.

“As long as Salt Lake City is a desirable place to live, there’s going to be more demand for housing,” Norris said. “You need to provide that somehow.”

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The Sugar House business district is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Far from a done deal

However, getting there does require quite a lengthy process. Norris explains that there will be a 45-day public comment period once the planning division decides that it has met all the requirements.

Alerts will be sent out to neighboring homes and businesses and the Sugar House Community Council to generate feedback as the planning division forms a recommendation on the proposal. Other city divisions will have to review the proposal, too, to make sure that it fits with current services, he said.

From there, the proposal will head to the Salt Lake City Planning Commission for a positive or negative recommendation. The Salt Lake City Council is responsible for any final decisions. The item has yet to be added to the planning commission calendar before being considered by the City Council.

While the city’s planning division is still going through its review, Norris said he believes a project of the rezone proposal’s nature could have an uphill battle as it goes through the entire process.

“We’ll give it a fair shake, but I think ... if the city were to entertain approving this proposal, there’s going to have to be some significant community benefit to doing so,” he said. “That’s something to be determined as we go through this process.”

A representative of the company is also slated to meet next week with members of the Sugar House Community Council and Salt Lake City Councilwoman Sarah Young, whose district represents the neighborhood, to discuss the proposal, according to a city spokesperson.

Young declined KSL.com’s request for comment on the proposal until after the community meeting.

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The Sugar House business district is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News