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Council overrides sky bridge veto

Published May 9, 2007 1:16 am

The vote passes 6-1; Rocky Anderson storms out after the decision
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The line on the street has been drawn.

One day after Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson vetoed a downtown sky bridge, a decisive and defiant City Council voted 6-1 to override the move.

"We are not creating a gerbil cage," impassioned Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said, adding that Anderson's notion that the council cannot comprehend the ramifications of a skywalk "is offensive to me."

The override cements a master-plan amendment and paves the path for a pedestrian bridge to span Main Street between South Temple and 100 South. Developers for the LDS Church's $1 billion City Creek Center mall insist the skywalk is vital for the success of the 20-acre project.

But Anderson, who stormed from the chamber moments after the vote, flatly rejects the rationale. And he scolded the council for suggesting city blocks are too long to walk.

"No wonder we don't have a walkable community," he vented. "There is nobody in the planning community anywhere in this country that will support a sky bridge under these circumstances."

But Bruce Heckman, vice president of development for developer Taubman Centers Inc., dismissed the "puzzling" critics as a minority group intent on creating a "smokescreen."

"The people who make the ridiculous statements that this is going to trap people in our project just don't understand the design," he said, noting escalators will descend to the street on both sides. "I don't know what the agenda is for this small group of people."

One of the critics is architect Soren Simonsen, the lone dissenter on the council who was again outnumbered Tuesday. He called it "disturbing" that there has been virtually no public input on a "huge change" to the city's master plan.

"It's the wrong solution," Simonsen said. "To me, it's the equivalent of saying, 'You're killing yourself by smoking, so let's do cosmetic surgery and see if that helps.' I guarantee you they're going to be tearing this down in 30 years."

Simonsen was denied the ability to showcase architectural examples from cities such as San Antonio and Seattle via a slide show.

"Apparently, they're not interested," he lamented.

That move infuriated the mayor.

"How do you stop a council member from showing slides?" Anderson asked prior to the vote. "Unbelievable."

As justification for the vote, council members explained they have wrestled and vetted the skywalk proposal for two years.

"This master-plan amendment . . . was not done in a back room," maintained Councilman Eric Jergensen, who said he respects Anderson but reserves the right to disagree. "Bravery and courage are about standing up for what one believes."

Councilman Dave Buhler said the new language - it passed by the same 6-1 count last month - includes "very specific and very strict restrictions" on the bridge design. Those details will be settled by the Planning Commission before the project comes back before the council for a final vote.

Critics argue a skywalk violates the capital's long-held standard to protect view corridors, which was the hallmark of Anderson's veto. But Love said the view from Main already is clogged by buildings, lights and cell towers. And she rejected the mayor's proposal to close that segment of the street to vehicle traffic, calling the idea quizzically "as outdated as sky bridges."

Heckman praised the council for the vote, noting that without it, three retailers could bolt and developers would have to "completely start over" on the design.

"They've been very thorough on the process and there's been quite an extensive analysis."

Still, that didn't satisfy a handful of residents who chastised the council for caving to the interests of the LDS Church.

"You've been lied to and bullied," alleged Salt Lake City resident Christian Harrison. If skywalks are essential to success, he asked, why are they being "torn down across the country?"

Brenda Scheer, also from the capital, agreed the vote is a product of "sheer bullying" by the church and its developer.

"Developers are the most risk-averse people on the planet," she said. "No way [if the bridge is not built] are they going to pick up this $1 billion project and leave."

In response, Councilman Carlton Christensen rejected the inference.

"I have not been bullied into a decision."

In other city business, the City Council voted unanimously to issue an $8.8 million sales tax revenue bond to finance construction of the Grant Tower Railroad Realignment Project on the city's west side. The bond also will fund improvements related to the expansion of TRAX.





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