SOUTH SALT LAKE — As city and county officials work to bring a new library to South Salt Lake at the former Granite High School property, some are questioning how long the process is taking.
Real estate developer Wasatch Group, in coordination with Salt Lake County Library Services, submitted a new proposal Wednesday that would see a library and 113 townhouses go into the 11-acre site, according to South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood.
Library representatives are proposing a 30,000-square foot building that would replace the current Smith and Columbus branches, according to Salt Lake County Library Director Jim Cooper. Those two branches would be consolidated into the new building.
Wasatch Group still owns the Granite property, but the library plans to buy the land from the developer that the library will sit on, Cooper said.
The applicants are seeking a rezone for the site that can accommodate both the public building and the private homes, according to Wood.
“So that’s what’s taking a little bit longer,” Wood said Thursday. “There’s no existing zoning in the city that would allow for 113 townhomes and for a public use building.”
As a result, city staffers had to write a new ordinance that will include appropriate zoning for that type of use, Wood said. The proposal was scheduled to go before the South Salt Lake planning commission at an Oct. 25 meeting, but it didn’t end up on the agenda.
Wood said all the parties involved in the development are now aiming to present it to the city's planning commission in December or January.
City officials concerned over project delays
City officials, council members and library representatives discussed the matter at a council meeting on Oct. 3. During the meeting, South Salt Lake City Council members Shane Siwik and Mark Kindred expressed frustration at the extended process.
“These nice folks want to give us a $20 million library, and we’re making them jump through a bunch of hoops,” Siwik said.
Kindred also said it seemed like the city was “putting up barriers” for the library.
At the Oct. 3 meeting, councilman Ben Pender said he felt the city was at risk of losing the library because of the drawn-out planning process.
But Wood said she isn’t concerned about losing the facility. She said she’s looking forward to helping bring a new library to the community.
If all goes well, and the proposal makes it through the planning process in the next few months, Cooper anticipates construction starting on the library next fall. It would then open to the public in late 2020, he said.
“We’re continuing to work with the city of South Salt Lake in a collaborative fashion we think in order to get this thing done,” Cooper told KSL on Nov. 8.
Library officials are preparing to start construction early next year on two new library branches — one in Kearns and the other in Daybreak, Cooper said.
Public safety debate conjures council meeting drama
At the Oct. 3 meeting, South Salt Lake officials also discussed the importance of public safety at the site, if it is to become a library. City officials had asked library representatives to include more details about public safety and other aspects of the project in their plans.
Referencing the tendency of public areas to attract homeless people, consultant Jodi Hoffman, who occasionally works with South Salt Lake in land use matters, said at the meeting that South Salt Lake officials didn’t want the library property to become a “tent city.” She added that city officials didn’t want the library to put a strain on South Salt Lake’s public safety resources, such as the city’s police force.
The time it took for the library to come back with an updated site plan that reflected the public safety details may have contributed to some delays in the project’s development, Hoffman suggested at the meeting.
There was some confusion, though, about how long it actually took for the library to present those updated plans to the city.
Hoffman said the first time she’d seen the updated plans were at the Oct. 3 meeting, four months after the city requested them. Library representatives, however, said they presented plans to the city in September.
Kindred again expressed frustration at the length of time the project had taken and the number of additional details the city continued to request from the library, saying, “no wonder we don’t get nice, shiny things.”
Hoffman replied that it wasn’t fair for Kindred to characterize the situation that way.
Mayor prepared to bring library to city
Despite the drama at the October meeting, Wood said Thursday she isn’t concerned about public safety issues or the delays as the library plans move forward.
“We’ve been working through those issues with the county library,” Wood said. “We’re confident that we are moving in the right direction with those conversations.”
“I really want the best project for the community and I think that that involves the library. So I’m excited to see this plan move forward. … I’m hopeful that this works out and that we’re able to move forward and the developer’s able to move forward, and that South Salt Lake gets a library.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article said Granite High School closed due to increased student enrollment. This article has been corrected to state the school closed due to decreased enrollment.