Rage Against Poor Community Design
September 23nd, 2009
Soren Simonson is an architect who is working towards making Salt Lake better for walkers, communities, and green advocates.
by Richard Markosian
Soren Simonson ran for City Council in 2005 by campaigning on working to save the rezoned Sugar House Granite Block. Utah Stories first interviewed Simonson in 2006, shortly after he began his term. I asked him why a Gateway mall-type development full of corporate mall stores--would be a good trade for thriving local businesses and historic buildings?
an architect by trade who is often hired to help design
streets and communities that are more community
oriented and "walkable".
Simonson said that he believed the Granite Block should not be demolished. He went on to say that as an Urban Designer the Sugar House Granite Block and favorite neighborhood center served as a model for other cities and that tearing it down would be a terrible mistake. The rest is history: despite support from the Sugar House community to save the block and a special public meeting organized so people could vent their concerns--which had a huge turnout--Simonson and Sugar House residents lost the battle. In the end the developer got the go-ahead to demolish the block. The community scored one potential win, a landscaping provision, which many now classify as a landscaping "loop hole" because typically financing for construction must be in place before demolition permits are issued; however, as anyone who walked or drove past the now-infamous "Sugar Hole" can attest, that was not the case this time.
Last week I met Simonson at his home to discuss his running for re-election this November. Like many Sugar House residents I believed this series of events has proven that no matter how much people care about an area, it is next to impossible for residents to save an area that they don't own."Do you believe there is something wrong with our system, when so many people sign petitions, make their voices heard--and then are completely ignored by the City Council?" "After that display at Nibley Park Elementary with only two council members moved in the slightest, I was very disappointed." Simonson was disappointed that he could not get the support he needed to at least halt demolition until building plans were in place.
Later voters made their voices heard at the ballot box by replacing Nancy Saxon with Luke Garrot. Dave Buhler stepped down to run for Mayor and was replaced with JT Martin. Simonson said that both men are more inclined to listen to their constituents than their predecessors. But for the past year, Simonson has had another great ally in the Mayor's Office, Ralph Becker. Simonson worked diligently on Becker's campaign, and they both see eye-to-eye on their vision for Salt Lake City--creating a more sustainable, walkable, bike-friendly city. In addition, Becker and Simonson are both architects who see the great benefits of adhering to and maintaining master plans.
Why Is A Master Plan So Important?
It's clear in speaking to Simonson that the plans for redeveloping Sugar House would have never been considered had more members in the City Council actually read the Sugar House master plan. To "preserve the character, history and local integrity" was a key tenant within the plan. Simonson says the plan was disregarded when the council re-zoned the block and allowed for demolition of the last of the historic buildings found in Sugar House, and displacing local business owners. Certainly the project had the potential for a huge windfall of tax revenue, but nobody anticipated the current situation where 20 local businesses were exchanged for an empty lot featuring a lone taco cart.
Today Simonson says that once again city leaders are ignoring a master plan as they discuss plans to build a public safety facility on library square. The area master plan clearly states that library square "will remain open space." Master plan adherence may seem like that guy on the sidelines who is calling all the fouls, but according to Simonson if Salt Lake City is going to grow in a manner that retains quality of life, then master plan adherence is key. "Creating and adhering to master plans that respect local history, build community and work towards sustainability are essential in making our city a better place to live," said Simonson.
Is A Street Car Coming to Sugar House?
Simonson says that there is a good chance that Sugar House will see a street car line that will travel up the former rail line at Willmington Avenue and it could come soon if a recent federal grant application is approved.Simonson said that city planning officials have submitted a grant to the Federal Transit Administration which will determine which funding projects are most suitable towards "building community."
Simonson said that the street car project fits under the guidelines for federal funding but he believes there are likely much higher priority projects that will receive attention. Still Simonson maintains there is a chance that TIGER funding or Federal economic stimulus funds will come through, which would mean that the project could be started with matching funds from the city as early as 2012. If the street car project doesn't receive the TIGER grant Simonson says that there is still a good chance it could receive federal funding, due to traffic alleviation it will resolve on 2100 South.
A Farmers Market on the Granite Block?
In prior articles Utah Stories has asked area merchants what they would like to see on the vacant Granite Block--now that it appears that there will not be a development project any time soon.
Several area business owners including Shauna Deboe from the Soup Kitchen and Steve Hatch from Details Home Furnishings have said that they would like to see an open-air market to help reinvigorate the area businesses. Simonson said that it is possible to have such a market on private property but the city could not facilitate or organize such an effort. But he said that he would encourage a group such as the Rotary club or a merchants association to work to gain the necessary special event permitting that could remove liability from the owner and assume responsibility for insurance.
Simonson's Goals For Sugar House
Soren Simonson said that if he is reelected he will continue to do focus on improved dialogue and communication with his constituents -- holding town hall meetings and sending out newsletters so that more residents are involved in the decisions that impact the community.
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Rage Against Poor Community Planning