July 1, 2008

Waterside Residents May Get Some Breathing Room

By Rosemary Winters, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jul. 1--Residents who live along Salt Lake City streams are welcome to trim trees, build patios and plant gardens. But those looking to construct a home on a pristine, creekside lot might have to place their picture windows 100 feet from the water.

Tonight, the Salt Lake City Council plans to make its first revisions to a far-reaching ordinance passed in January aimed at protecting riparian corridors from over-development, soil erosion and pollution. The proposed changes would mean more flexibility for home additions but bigger setbacks on now-vacant lots.

The regulation affects about 2,000 property owners within 100 feet of Red Butte, Emigration, Parleys and City creeks and the Jordan River.

After hastily establishing the Riparian Corridor Overlay District earlier this year to beat an expiring construction moratorium, the council vowed to revisit the new law this summer -- after commissioning an outside study and reaching out to residents.

"We received great input and have been able to tailor the ordinance to accommodate the preservation of the stream, as well as . . . the needs of property owners," said City Councilman J.T. Martin.

Consultants hired by Salt Lake City deemed the ordinance progressive, but confusing, and suggested a rewrite. Residents worried that a ban on "ground-disturbing activities" meant they no longer could walk their dogs, plant tomatoes or install fences and benches within 25 feet of streams, even though that was not the case.

After interviewing property owners, the consultants recommended more flexibility in allowing home expansions, use of heavy equipment and tree removal. They also urged boosting the setback to 100 feet before anyone could build on an empty lot and offering incentives, such as shorter setbacks or higher densities, to developers who agree to raise buried stream segments or restore banks.

George Haley lives next to Miller Park, a public trail that lines a section of Red Butte Creek between 1500 East and 1700 East. When the ordinance passed, he was upset by the rumors about bans on dog walking, backyard barbecues and vegetable gardens. He is pleased with the city's public-education process.

"The overall mission of this is to preserve the green spaces and the water quality of these urban streams," he said. "I'm all for having green spaces in the community."

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What's next

The Salt Lake City Council will take public comment and consider revisions to the Riparian Corridor Overlay District tonight. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 451 S. State St.

What changes are planned

The amended ordinance would:

--Provide flexibility for minor developments, such as gardens or fences, and allow for some home additions within riparian corridors.

--Relax restrictions on tree removal and replacement.

--Increase the stream setback to 100 feet for new homes on undeveloped lots that are 1 acre or larger. A 50-foot setback could be allowed on shallow lots, in some instances.

--Allow for reduced setbacks or increased density in exchange for raising buried portions of creeks or restoring stream banks.

--Clarify that property owners also must comply with federal, state and county laws governing waterways.


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