SALT LAKE CITY — You don’t have to go far from the 4th Avenue Well to find unhappy residents about a proposed project there. The well, located in a small park off of North Canyon Road two blocks south of Memory Grove, is flanked by homes in each direction.
Many of those residents have placed signs in their windows and in their yards pushing back against a Salt Lake City project to enhance the well. They bemoan a proposed building to house an above ground pump here, which a few residents liken to a coffee shop chain building than something that belongs in this neighborhood.
It’s been that way for months, but the project is still full steam ahead — albeit with adjustments along the way.
The proposed project would move the well’s pump from an underground vault to above ground that city officials say would meet “current safety and environmental requirements.” A housing structure to cover the well would also be built and most of the open park space with trees around it would be covered up, which is partly why the residents here are up in arms.
"Would you walk outside your house and have that?" resident Victoria Walker asks, standing on the small park space. "Is it right that the city subject to every one of these homeowners to that?"
Actual construction is expected to begin later this year, said Jesse Stewart, public utilities deputy director for the city. On May 7, the city released a new design of what the project will look like.
As the neighborhood residents push back, city officials overseeing the project say the well is just too valuable to not move forward with the upgrade.
What is the 4th Avenue Well?
Construction of the well began in 1943, according to a report compiled by structural engineering company Hansen Allen & Luce, Inc. for the city. It’s been active for the city since 1948. Stewart explained it traditionally only operates from April through October, allowing mostly downtown residents extra water supply and pressure during the summertime.
The report added it can supply anywhere from 3 million to 7 million gallons per day to the city’s water system when in use and officials say it’s the largest water-producing well in the city. In addition, officials say the well has provided the Salt Lake Fire Department with water to fight fires during the summer.
“This well is a critical — if not key — component to water in that downtown area in the summertime,” Stewart said.
The proposed project
The project, which is currently budgeted at about $3 million, started with the need to fix the electrical system used to help make it churn out water to the city, Stewart said. The plan is for a new above-ground pump and disinfectant system with a structure housing it.
The housing was designed by Salt Lake City-based CRSA Architecture with some input from the city’s Historic Landmark Commission and other offices.
City officials say they delayed the project at least one year to allow public comment and some of the plans were shed after it. The initial plan shrank from 2,400 square feet to a building less than 800 square feet. Fencing, an on-site diesel generator and a fluoride station were removed from the plans along the way, according to Stewart.
“We’re mandated by law to have fluoride within our system. After looking at things, we made a decision that at this point — we’ll have to monitor this throughout time — that we feel like we can meet the annual running average for fluoride without having this fluorided, but we’ll have to monitor that throughout time,” Stewart said. “If we find we can’t meet that, we’d have to look at that in the future.”
However, those changes won’t save all of the scenery in the area. At least three trees by the well vault will be removed for the project. A large Sycamore tree also in that space may be removed too, Stewart added.
Why not everyone's happy
As the city presses forward, residents in the neighborhood haven’t stopped their barrage against the project. Monday evening, Lisa Livingston sat on the current well cover next to a couple of signs against the project. Walker and fellow neighbors Evan Smith and Winston Seiler stood nearby to chat with anyone willing to listen. They hope that will include city officials before construction begins on the project.
"We try to be extremely active and we try to be extremely coordinated," Walker explained.
They don't like what the project means for their neighborhood homes, but also for the many people who use the park space daily. They question what the project would mean for their health; they question the size of the project and its design. They're also concerned the above-ground pump will be loud as compared to the one silenced underground.
"I sort of hope the endgame from this is a benefit for the whole city, not just us who live close by. If we can preserve this park as much as possible, everybody wins," Seiler added. The park space has been around for more than a century and even predates Memory Grove.
The group has voiced its opposition to the city council, too. During a May 7 City Council meeting, multiple residents took command of the public commenting period during the session.
During that session, Walker said her son has asthma. She was concerned about the chemical used for pipe treatment: chemical sodium hypochlorite — an agent stronger than bleach. Stewart explained the chemical is an industry standard to disinfect the pipes as the water travels through them.
“We feel the water department has not considered the risks to the neighborhood that are caused by continual sodium hypochlorite exposure,” Walker told the council during the May 7 meeting. “Contrary to the water department’s claim that sodium hypochlorite is safe and is not dangerous because it’s only twice as strong as the chlorine in your home, we would like you to do research and find out that it is.”
David Garcia, another resident, applauded the city for shrinking the size of the building but said he’d like to see it even smaller. “Smaller is better,” he added during the meeting. That seems to mirror the sentiment of the neighbors, who say they'd like to see it as small as possible.
I sort of hope the endgame from this is a benefit for the whole city, not just us who live close by. If we can preserve this park as much as possible, everybody wins.
–Salt Lake City resident Winston Seiler
The group also bashed the proposed design, saying it doesn’t fit the Historic neighborhood.
"There's a 20 by 20-foot eyesore that's already here that we've gotten used to," Seiler says. Before he can finish his thought, Smith injects, "I can see a beautiful little pumphouse that would make this look like crap. This isn't the most beautiful design I've ever seen." The group chuckles and nods in agreement.
They also wonder if it would be cheaper to put the well anywhere away from homes.
Despite their pleas against the project, the planning portion of the project appears close to completion. Those in charge of the plan are slated to meet with the Historic Landmark Commission on June 6 to possibly finalize the blueprints for what the building will look like, Stewart said.
City officials opted to wait until the well is shut off during fall before construction begins, so downtown residents shouldn’t expect a difference in their water supply this summer.
Officials hope to have the new pump running by April 2020.