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South Salt Lake saw an opportunity to start over with previously industrial and untapped land by creating a “new downtown”.
Instead, it’s stuffing one of its key areas with more auto-focused businesses.
Seven years after commissioning a new plan to realize the urban potential of the land near the city’s shared border with Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake leaders continue to roll out the red carpet for new auto-focused businesses.
The most recent example includes the City Redevelopment Agency selling 5.52 acres of land in 2,280 S. State, near the heart of what is supposed to be a downtown neighborhood for a car dealership.
On June 15, the RDA, made up of city council members, voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding with NFL Hall of Famer-owned auto dealer John Elway to reach terms whereby the dealer would develop a portion of the land to sell cars.
This type of use is not permitted in any downtown areas of South Salt Lake City. But the city is taking steps to change that, as it has in the past for uses that don’t align with the downtown division.
It appears that the city’s RDA recently sold the land to Elway Group, which in the past had acted as an auto and RV dealership, and on June 15 voted to enter into an agreement with Elway to come up with a plan to develop the land. The plan specifically calls for the sale of cars as well as mixed uses.
It seems the city isn’t eager to talk about its decision either. RDA members did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Mayor Cherie Wood did not respond to requests for comment.
The city registrar confirmed the MOU had been passed and submitted a copy but declined to provide any further information.
What is in South Salt Lake?
County records show that the RDA actually sold all of its 5.52 acres to a company owned by the Elway Automobile Group as one massive lot.
The MOU appears to include the possibility of retail or mixed use alongside car dealerships, saying that it “will be developed into a retail/user mix development (sic), which includes the sale of cars.”
In fact, the city is moving to agree to a development that might bring short-term tax benefits at the cost of locking up acres of land indefinitely into a use that provides less efficient tax returns and fewer things for residents and visitors to do downtown.
With the city remaining silent, there are more questions than answers. For example, has there been an agreement in place for some time? Has the city issued a request for proposals from those interested in buying the land? Have I overlooked other projects in favor of this project? Plus any details about any of the versatile nature of the final development.
Is it possible that no one will come forward to develop a blank canvas not far from downtown Salt Lake City? Or is South Salt Lake striving to develop and strengthen its middle tax base by any means necessary?
The development, which would be directly adjacent to a light rail transit station, residential or retail premises could be Central Pointe Place – the four-lane street, running lightly between major thoroughfares and state streets.
Whatever the case, it does not evolve into the urban area envisioned by the downtown plan. This has property tax implications, too, because car-centric and suburban developments often generate lower property taxes than micro-urban development.
For comparison, a 3.38-acre plot in Salt Lake City owned and operated as an automobile dealership is worth $2.88 million per acre between building and land, according to the county estimate.
Directly to the east, smaller parcels with single-family homes are valued at $2.95 million per acre.
The same is already true in South Salt Lake. The insurance company acquires 0.66 acres of land in the area – more than half of which is parking – valued at $1.96 million per acre. The value of the various auto dealerships in the South is $1.74 million per acre.
Houses immediately to the east? 2.58 million dollars per acre.
In fact, South Salt Lake will generate more property tax revenue from micro-development than the type of development that focuses on the cars it attracts. However, there may be a move to generate more sales tax, a pool of money that is growing more quickly than property taxes.
However, the type of development that is happening is the consolidation of large plots of land into the hands of a small handful of owners, limiting the number of things to do in the downtown area.
Yet in the east side of the city center it can be summed up as a large department store with a huge car park that has replaced a multi-use lane; a restaurant serving chicken meals; a bank with a parking lot that makes up 87 percent of the plot; Townhouses, car dealers and storage yards.
Moving west, developers have shown a renewed interest in capitalizing on the popularity of the breweries, distilleries and restaurants that have settled near West Temple, and a pipeline is being built for the new multi-family housing rush.
The MOU is valid for no more than a year, but it also has a 30-day retraction clause allowing either party to withdraw from the deal by July 15.
So we’ll know by next June if another auto dealership near downtown is what’s missing south of Salt Lake City.
Or the city could change its mind in the next three weeks.
Email Taylor Anderson
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