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Small-scale development might help improve Salt Lake neighborhoods, expert says

By Lauren Bennett, KSL | Posted - Mar 15th, 2019 @ 7:01am



SALT LAKE CITY — Creating flexible and adaptable buildings gives people more housing choices and breaks the mold of one-size-fits-all development, according to John Anderson, founding member of national nonprofit Incremental Development Alliance.

“Small development is all about fourth-grade math and fifth-grade English,” Anderson told the crowd. “You’re not looking to change the scale of the whole city."

Anderson spoke to a group of about 60 Salt Lake community members about small-scale development at a workshop Thursday.

The workshop is part of an educational series sponsored in part by the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office, the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City and Deseret First Credit Union to help educate people on incremental development.

He emphasized that people don't have to be experts to become small-scale developers.

Brandon Dayton, a neighborhood advocate who helped organize the event, agreed.

"You don't have to be a specialist to do this kind of work," Dayton said.

Anyone interested in improving their neighborhood is the perfect fit for the job, he said.

Large development projects from outside developers can gentrify locations and push people out of their neighborhoods while raising prices, Dayton explained.

Whereas designing smaller one- to three-story buildings with no more than 20 residential units can help provide more housing options for people and address the affordable housing crisis.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be large projects, it doesn't have to be … a CVS or a Walmart, but it can be neighborhood scale, it can be owned by the neighborhood, it can be your neighbors, other members of the community that are kind of building wealth and benefiting from the work," he said.

Increasing the number of local small developers can also help keep wealth in the community and increase the quality of life, Dayton added.

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"When you invest in your own neighborhood, then it's not just about the revenue that you get from that development, it's also about the benefit you're getting from making your neighborhood better," he said.

Anderson said he hoped attendees of the workshop felt their vision was achievable.

"More than anything, I'm hoping that there was something in what I said that resonated with them about the scale of what is possible in a place that they care about," he said. "Because what you really want to do as a small developer is find a place that you care about that needs you and that will make the effort sustainable."

One big goal of the series is educating people and helping them become comfortable with confusing language, according to Elaine Navar, community liaison with the mayor's office for districts 1 and 2.

"So it empowers community members to understand the language of development and financing and zoning — because there's so many ideas floating around right now that people in the community want to do but we don't know where to start and how to go about it," she said. "It really gives people the tools to understand how they can move forward with this great idea that they've been sitting on for such a long time."

The workshops help further a major goal for the mayor, Navar said.

"It goes along with the themes of the mayor's vision of creating a thriving city and opportunity for everyone," she said.


Small development is all about fourth-grade math and fifth-grade English. You’re not looking to change the scale of the whole city.

–John Anderson, Incremental Development Alliance


Anderson said outside developers think of affordable housing in terms of numbers and in the abstract, whereas small, local developers think of affordable housing on a personal level, for people they know.

"How can Jim afford to live in my neighborhood because I went to high school with Jim and I'm trying to make this work," Anderson cited as an example of how a small-scale developer might think.

Anderson explained how this type of development impacts a neighborhood.

"Typically, the best parts of a community were built at a small scale," Anderson said. "So some of the most valuable parts of the community for a long time have been … a paying member of the tax base for a long time. So, economically those small projects are often the bedrock of the city's general fund budget."

Giving people the tools they need to succeed in development is crucial, Dayton said.

"They can make the change that they want to see in their neighborhood that they don't have to ask permission or beg for someone else to come in and save their neighborhood — they can take that on themselves and make it happen," he said.

Another free workshop led by Anderson is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Salt Lake Main Library, 210 E. 400 South.

A more intensive and hands-on workshop will be held April 24 at the Leonardo.

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