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Salt Lake City officials have toned down plans to tune up energy-inefficient buildings after pressure from legislators, business leaders and a real estate arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The capital's Sustainability Department on Tuesday presented the City Council with an updated and scaled-back version of a proposed ordinance that council members had tabled in January.
The earlier version would have required owners of buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to report those buildings' energy efficiency scores all of which the city would have published and to implement tuneups.
Under the revised ordinance, many buildings would be exempt from reporting scores, and of those owners who were forced to report, only high performers would be outed. Tuneups, for all, would be voluntary.
Officials told the council that the ordinance can still help them achieve the city's lofty environmental goals to use 100 percent renewable electricity by 2032 and to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2040 even if it no longer twists the arms those who own low-performing buildings.
"If [a building] owner's going to do an evaluation, it's highly likely that they're going to implement [suggested tuneups], because the paybacks on those tuneups are usually a year or less," said Debbie Lyons, director of the Sustainability Department.
Lyons said, for example, that an evaluator providing a free assessment through Rocky Mountain Power might tell a business owner that a slight adjustment to a thermostat would result in significant savings, and then granted permission make that tweak on the spot.
Both versions of the proposal have had council support, but some members privately felt in January that it wasn't worth risking the ire of influential developers and business owners by debating it during a state legislative session.
Indeed, Sustainability Department Director Vicki Bennett was approached by two legislators House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper who fit that bill.
Wilson asked that the requirements be phased in, starting with buildings 100,000 square feet or larger. The city didn't budge. But it did make tuneups voluntary at the behest of Wilson, Schultz and others.
Downtown Alliance and the Building Owners and Managers Association of Utah (BOMA) chipped in, as did City Creek Reserve, the for-profit development arm of the LDS Church.
City Creek said the ordinance shouldn't apply to places of worship and tax-exempt buildings, and it, too, got its wish.
Downtown Alliance said the original ordinance offered too much stick and not enough carrot, which might lead to a perception that it was difficult to do business in Utah's capital.
Among many complaints, BOMA has argued that the old ordinance language misrepresented the impact of buildings on air quality, prompting the city to shorten a clause to read, "Whereas, the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognize that the average commercial building wastes approximately 30% of the energy it consumes," without going into how that goal is brought about "through inefficient technologies and operations."
BOMA is not on board, Lyons said, despite what are now far more favorable conditions for any building owners who might have worried that low scores would be used to shame them.
Starting in May 2019 (revised from 2018 in the original), a building owner would be required to report a standard measure of his or her building's energy efficiency, known as its Energy Star score.
Only if the score were 50 or above or more efficient than 50 percent of similar buildings nationwide would it be included in a numberless list published by the city. And those building owners would still have to elect for the city to publish their specific scores.
Kevin Emerson, energy efficiency program director for the nonprofit Utah Clean Energy, said afterward that BOMA is fighting such "benchmarking" mandates nationwide, and that just a couple of cities have passed ordinances that require tuneups. Salt Lake City's proposal is relatively strong even without that requirement, he said.
Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall billed the revised ordinance as "the kind of move we have to make as a city," and Councilmen Andrew Johnston and Derek Kitchen echoed her support.
"You know our carbon reduction goals," Mendenhall said. "They are so impressive. And they are completely attainable with these kinds of actions."
Councilman James Rogers, on the other hand, said he had been "inundated" with concerns from property owners during the past week and wondered who would be responsible if a tenant is responsible for ongoing property costs.
"There's a lot of information in here that, to me, we haven't gone through it enough," he said.
The council tentatively plans to hold a public hearing Aug. 8, with action loosely scheduled for Aug. 29.
In other council business Tuesday, its first meeting in nearly a month after passing a city budget:
• The city's Business Licensing Division will now have a new means of dealing with wrongdoing business owners, prompted by complaints about motels that cater to illicit drug and sex trades.
Mendenhall had championed a new civil penalty ordinance before its unanimous passage Tuesday, saying it was "time for us to draw a line in the sand."
The ordinance will allow the city to issue fines before infractions escalate to the level of a criminal misdemeanor, and if those fines went unpaid, to seek a legal judgment and a lien against the property.
The major advantage to that: Bad-egg property owners can no longer simply transfer ownership to an associate or a relative and wipe the slate clean for that property. Area motel owners have been accused of using such straw purchases to avoid repercussions.
Bill Davis, chairman of both the Ballpark and Liberty Wells community councils, said "slumtels" along State Street are home to prostitution and drug-dealing facilitated by "management that is basically allowing this to go on."
The rundown properties are counterintuitively very profitable, Davis said, and not without value to the community, if managed responsibly.
"These places actually do provide housing super affordable housing for some people," he said. "Sometimes for people it's a choice between living there and being homeless."
Violators will receive a written warning first, and then a $250 penalty for a second violation within a 24-month period. A third violation costs $500, and a fourth violation is another $500 with a year of probation. If a fifth notice is issued during probation, it's yet another $500, a revoked business license, and a six-month waiting period to reapply.
• An unused right-of-way at the northern end of 800 West might become a 5,000-square-foot community center for refugees and immigrants.
The Good Samaritan Foundation seeks Council OK to lease a stretch of road and dirt between 740 North and Interstate 15, sandwiched between a single-family housing development and apartment complexes.
It's ideal, says Good Samaritan co-founder Tom Lloyd, for the multitude of services that his foundation hopes to offer some 70,000 refugees living in the valley.
Of those services, English lessons are most valuable, Lloyd said, but others include employment and citizenship assistance and after-school tutoring.
Lloyd said that at a given time, only about 3,000 valley refugees are receiving the wraparound support of resettlement services, provided for 18 months to two years. He hopes to pick up the baton with this center in Rose Park and others like it to the south of Salt Lake.
In the proposal before the Council, the city would lease the land to Good Samaritan for 30 years at $12 per year, after which it would inherit the facility, which is being built with funding from Lloyd's nonprofit, LDS Humanitarian Services, the Dumke Foundation and the University of Utah.
Said Councilwoman Lisa Adams: "I think it's a great use of space that's just been sitting there."
The council set an Aug. 8 public hearing on the proposal, which received unanimous support at the Rose Park Community Council and the city's Planning Commission.
• Developer Josh Romney sat in for a portion of council business that related to him Tuesday a request for a zoning change on 90 acres of property in the city's undeveloped Northwest Quadrant.
The council had no questions for Romney and his team, but a reporter did.
Asked if he'd read a recent Deseret News editorial that pitched Romney as a homelessness "czar" pitched by House Speaker Greg Hughes to oversee statewide efforts, Romney said he had, but that nobody has approached him about the post.
It's "not necessarily something I have the capacity or time for," Romney said.
Wrote the DNews board: "Certainly Josh Romney, the son of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose name has been floated for the board to oversee the new homeless shelter" Romney is, in fact, already on the Shelter the Homeless nonprofit board and has been tasked with marshaling its development efforts "may be a name behind which many state leaders might rally."
Romney said he does agree with Hughes that the situation near the 210 S. Rio Grande St. shelter is worsening, even if Salt Lake City crime data shows a 6 percent reduction in the most serious crimes.
"Anyone that drives up and down 500 West can see that it's pretty dramatic and devastating," he said.