This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City may have overstepped its authority in mandating the preservation of a nearly 100-year-old mansion in Sugar House. Who says? Well, members of the Planning Commission who actually made the "complicated, tortured motion."
Late last month, the commission voted 5-2 to approve a conditional-use permit for Deseret Industries to take over the former Circuit City store at 724 E. 2100 South. But it came with strings attached: Include lots of windows, add retail entrances, shave parking stalls, and, most of all, save the two-story building abutting the big box that was built in 1911 by polygamist and one-time prominent landowner Hyrum Jensen.
Commission Chairwoman Mary Woodhead says the condition on the mansion is unprecedented.
"It's an adventurous use of our authority," she conceded, noting the issue does not have to go before the City Council. And Deputy City Attorney Lynn Pace warns the move may have set up the city for a challenge by the D.I.'s owner, the LDS Church.
"It sort of became a Christmas tree that everyone started hanging things on," Pace said, adding D.I. has 30 days to appeal. "It is an awkward set of conditions."
For more than a decade, D.I. has been looking to relocate from its cramped Highland Drive location. The drop-off, particularly on Saturdays, is a regular traffic hazard. At its new location, the thrift store proposed taking out the Hyrum Jensen mansion at 774 E. 2100 South to pave way for drop-offs and loading docks.
The Utah Heritage Foundation issued a statement opposing the demolition. Maggie Shaw, chairwoman of the Sugar House Community Council, says her group also is against losing the old house.
"The community council really kind of leaned on them to try to save it," she said. "Everybody is a little bit shy about tearing down anything after what happened on the [stalled development at the] corner of 21st [South] and 11th East. We're becoming the city of bark-covered lots."
The LDS Church would not comment Monday about either the commission vote or whether it intends to appeal.
"I haven't got word of what they are thinking," said Casey Stewart, the principal planner who notes the development team left after the vote debating whether it could complete the project with the mansion intact.
The D.I. proposal calls for adding 12,000 square feet to the former Circuit City footprint for a drive-through and offices, bringing the complex to 56,000 square feet. While the thrift store wants 253 parking stalls, city planners argue the standard for that space is 113.
Woodhead says D.I. architects indicated they could preserve the mansion by moving it, but didn't say where. "It was very nebulous," she said. That led to the preservation mandate, which Pace says is binding.
I don't know that the commission has ever done that before," Woodhead added.
But even if the LDS Church challenged it, Pace says, it would not necessarily win.
"Can a body overstep their bounds?" he asks. "Sure. But there is plenty of room to argue whether they've overstepped their discretion."
Longtime Planning Commissioner Tim Chambless said "a number of us, including myself, would like to see the house preserved somehow, someway." Nonetheless, he called the multipronged provision for D.I. approval a "complicated, tortured motion."
On a three-quarter-acre plot, the mansion most recently has been used as offices for Bodell-Van Drimmelen & Associates Appraisers & Consultants. And some argue the makeover has left the interior with little to no historical relevance.
Property owner Martell Bodell signed a contract to sell with the LDS Church, explaining the best use for the former polygamist mansion is "commercial."
Salt Lake County records value the mansion property at nearly $587,000.
The LDS Church, which owns Deseret Industries, has 30 days from the Sept. 23 Planning Commission vote to appeal to a city board the mandate to preserve an old Victorian mansion.