On Tuesday, neighborhoods around the new Sugar House streetcar line will ask the Salt Lake City Council this very question. Any urban planner (our mayor among them) knows that parks and recreational amenities create healthy communities, stabilize property values, and increase economic activity for nearby businesses.
On March 25, the council will vote on issues affecting property near the streetcar line, one of which is the mayor's re-zoning proposal. Reviewing his plan, members of the affected communities quickly saw two major flaws and began working with Soren Simonson, an urban planner and recent councilmember, to create an alternative.
The two plans are similar, but we feel our alternative better meets the mayor's goals of increased development seamlessly integrated with existing neighborhoods.
First, the mayor's proposal allows buildings of dramatically different heights to be right next to each other creating a visually disjointed effect. For instance, a home can be adjacent to a 10-story building. Our alternative plan places mid-height "buffer" buildings between such disparities. It simply makes more sense.
Second, to the outrage of the entire community, the mayor's proposal also involves a piece of Fairmont Park known as the "tennis courts." He proposes selling this land to a developer to build apartments.
Whatever your thoughts on high-density housing, there are some places where it makes sense and others where it doesn't. Land zoned for public use, right next door to a busy Boys and Girls Club, is clearly the wrong place for this. There are already many empty warehouses along the streetcar line that could become apartments.
Additionally, the "tennis court" property is designated for public use and if the city had maintained the land as it should have, it would still be in use now.
To clarify the issue for the mayor's office, this is not about tennis courts and this is not about the community gardens currently occupying them. This is ultimately about open space and the critical role it plays in healthy, economically stable communities. The Salt Lake City Planning Commission recently cited the lack of sports equipment in Sugar House as an issue.
For very little money, this neglected piece of concrete can easily be transformed into 10 half-court basketball courts similar to Battery Park in New York City. (Currently, the six hoops in Sugar House are far from public transportation and are packed with people waiting to play.)
As representatives from the surrounding neighborhoods, we are proposing a Fairmont Park sports court as a compromise to fill several needs:
• It maintains open park space for future generations.
• Basketball is a favorite sport across ages, genders and socioeconomic groups.
• The Boys & Girls Club could keep their parking while maintaining space for future renovation/expansion.
• These courts would be widely used by the clubs, the neighbors, riders from TRAX, and future residents of the nearly 1,000 new apartments already under construction nearby.
• We will create a valuable public amenity on currently neglected property.
We are not opposed to transit-oriented development, progress or addede density along the streetcar line.
In fact, we feel our plan better represents smart transit-oriented development. Many of the several vacant warehouses between 500 East and the South Salt Lake TRAX line will eventually develop into the future apartments, retail stores, coffee shops and restaurants necessary to add population density along the line.
We ask the City to seize this opportunity to create a park amenity that will widely benefit Sugar House's current and future residents in addition to the many visitors we expect to attract via the Sugar House streetcar.
Topher Horman is a trustee on the Sugar House Community Council, national event producer, and raises funds for children's hospitals. Soren Simonsen is an urban planner and former Salt Lake City Council member integral in developing the S Line. Amy Fowler is an attorney for the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association and is active in the Sugar House community. Dayna McKee is an advocate for urban farming, parks and sustainability. They all live in Salt Lake City.