A proposed rezone of property south of Skyline Drive to build apartment buildings and townhomes received a unanimous negative recommendation from the Tooele City Planning Commission during its meeting Wednesday night.
The rezone request for the 14.3-acre property would amend the existing R1-7 residential zone in a sensitive area overlay zone to the MR-25 multi-family residential zoning district. The current zoning allows approximately five dwelling units per acre; the MR-25 zone would allow 25 units per acre.
The property, which abuts Little Mountain, is in a sensitive area overlay zone, which provides regulatory standards to minimize the impact of flooding, erosion, destruction of natural plant and wildlife habitat, alteration of natural drainage and protect the scenic character of the hillside. According to the city staff report on the rezone, the sensitive area overlay zone places greater restrictions on the property and limits the development potential of the property.
Jim Bolser, the city’s community development director, said the rezone would require the sensitive area overlay be removed from the property if passed. Bolser also informed the planning commission of the Tooele City Council policy, approved in May, to not accept or approve any high-density residential rezones until it completes a study of the city’s infrastructure and utility.
The rezone application included a concept plan, with two three-story apartment buildings near the intersection of Skyline Drive and Main Street, and 32 townhomes west of the intersection of Skyline Drive and 200 East. While the property for rezone extended past 200 East, the concept plan did not include any structures east of the intersection. The two apartment buildings would include 90 units and 36 units.
Derald Anderson, a local developer who owns property in the rezone area, said the higher density was required to build housing closer to Main Street and away from existing homes on Skyline Drive. The townhomes would be built across from the Tooele City Cemetery.
“We need this zoning to be able to do that shift,” Anderson said. “If we leave it that R1-7, we’re not able to shift all of that down to basically Main Street.”
Resident Malcolm Walden called the proposed rezone to build high-density housing an abysmal idea and said he worried about the impact on quality of view, openness and solitude for Skyline Drive residents.
“Having a wall of buildings and the hundreds of people that will come along with that, settling there, would just destroy the quality of life of that part of Tooele,” Walden said. “Enough of that has gone on and sometimes you’ve just got to take a stand.”
The sentiment was repeated in comments by resident Lance Holcomb, who evoked New York City’s Central Park in a defense of natural areas.
“If I had my wish, Tooele would buy that property and it would become an open space and it wouldn’t be an argument again,” Holcomb said. “And it would just be part of one of the small gems of Tooele.”
Residents also expressed concerns about increased traffic, impact on wildlife, construction near the steep slopes of the mountain and snow removal.
Developer Steven McCleery said the project was intended to mitigate the impact on Skyline Drive residents by keeping the apartment buildings close to Main Street and nearer to commercial property in downtown Tooele. He said the portion of property across from existing Skyline Drive homes would be used as a trailhead to limit the impact on nature.
“Most of this isn’t even affecting the mountain itself, from the site of what we’re planning to do,” he said.
McCleery also suggested the multi-family housing would have less impact on the property than building homes on the entire parcel in the current zoning.
“The same reason this lands keep coming back to multi-family is because the most risky thing you can do to this mother nature scenario and geology is to actually do single-family residences,” he said.
Commissioner Matt Robinson made a motion to forward a negative recommendation to the City Council, citing the group’s policy and the need to maintain the sensitive area overlay. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Ray Smart.
“The City Council has already said they’re going to wait on these things. I see no need for us to push it forward while they are already studying the issue,” Robinson said. “ … I think that the findings that are outlined in the staff report, that sensitive area overlay needs to stay.”
Commissioner Chris Sloan cited the volume of vehicles from the number of proposed units in his vote for the negative recommendation, as he called the intersection with Main Street horrible, due to its low visibility and poor alignment.