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Petitions from at least four neighborhoods within the greater Yalecrest area now seek Local Historic District status, opening a new chapter in the tussle over preservation on Salt Lake City's east bench.
Although Yalecrest is on the National Register of Historic Places, it does not enjoy protections offered by Salt Lake City for its Local Historic Districts.
New regulations for Local Historic District designation in Salt Lake City were set in late 2012. The ordinance is the result of a three-year dispute between Yalecrest residents who wanted to protect the character of the area during a spate of demolitions that yielded McMansions and property-rights advocates who didn't want to be burdened with more regulation and restrictions.
The Utah Legislature, led by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who also is a developer, demanded that Salt Lake City revamp its regulations creating historic districts or face a fix from state lawmakers.
Ultimately, the City Council decided that rather than determining whether all of Yalecrest from Sunnyside Avenue to 1300 South between 1300 East and 1900 East should be a historic district, residents in each of 22 subdivisions could petition for smaller districts. Each homeowner within a designated area would then have the opportunity to vote yes or no. A simple majority would determine the outcome.
"This is the first time for the new process," said Council Chairman Charlie Luke, whose District 6 includes Yalecrest. "There will be a lot of people watching this."
Separate petitions were submitted for Princeton Avenue from 1700 East to 1800 East; Harvard Avenue from 1700 East to 1800 East; Yale Avenue from 1700 East to 1800 East; and Herbert Avenue from 1700 East to 1800 East.
The city's Planning Department will authenticate the petitions, then both the Landmark Commission and Planning Commission must hold a public hearing and ratify them before a homeowner vote is held. A ballot is then mailed to each registered property owner, who has 30 days from the postmark to return it.
If voters approve the creation of a historic district, the City Council also must give its stamp of approval before it becomes official.
"The new process is much more inclusive from the get-go," Luke said. "For the first time, every property owner will have a say."
Petitioner Tracey Harty said she and like-minded residents want to "maintain the streetscapes the original look and feel" of their neighborhood.
Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Herbert avenues line up next to one another respectively from south to north. If each petition were to be approved, it would make a four-block historic district.
The historic designation doesn't mean homeowners can't paint their houses or add on to them, she said. "There are sensitive ways to increase square footage."
Hopefully, creating smaller preservation areas won't be as contentious as the previous decision to create a large historic district, Harty said.
The biggest reason for the outcry several years ago was that some people didn't see a straightforward process," she said. "This new process is a well-defined process."
Another petitioner, Sonja Chelsey, said "a lot of people" want to preserve the character of the area in the aftermath of demolitions and construction of large structures among the smaller historic houses that characterize the neighborhood.
She pointed to the so-called "Garage Mahal" at 1788 E. Hubbard Ave. The style and size of the structure diminish the neighborhood, she said. A historic district designation would dissuade such activities.
The petition, Chelsey said, provides neighbors with an opportunity to discuss the future of their neighborhoods.
"What this is doing," she said, "is opening the conversation."
Petitions for small historic districts
Princeton Avenue • 1700 block
Harvard Avenue • 1700 block
Yale Avenue • 1700 block
Herbert Avenue • 1700 block