SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe the fourth time's the charm for a well upgrade project planned for a quiet neighborhood near Memory Grove.
Exactly a year after the last public meeting on the 4th Avenue Well project and after yet another design modification, the Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission voted nearly unanimously on two project motions to support the well and pump house project after a lengthy discussion about the controversial project.
The commission, meeting virtually for the first time in its history, voted 8-0 for the project to be constructed and 7-1 on a pair of special exceptions to the project after more than 90 minutes of discussion Thursday. While the Salt Lake City Council will make the final decision, some residents in the area remained skittish about aspects of the plan, voicing concerns about noise and even the color of the pump house.
The well itself sits adjacent to the intersection of 4th Avenue and North Canyon Road. It’s surrounded by homes and small apartment complexes and is on a small park space a few blocks south of Memory Grove. It has functioned during the summer months since 1948, serving downtown Salt Lake City additional water during that time. But the well is getting old and Salt Lake City Public Utilities proposed that the aging pump motor be moved from below to above ground and a house covering it.
"This is a critical project for public utilities in terms of rehabilitation of a very important water supply source for the city," said Salt Lake City Public Utilities Director Laura Briefer, during Thursday’s meeting. She added that the project is one of the department’s highest priorities and remains on its proposed 2021 budget even as COVID-19-related revenue shortfalls have forced leaders to hold other utility projects.
The first proposal called for about 2,300 square feet, which would have eliminated eight trees and most of the park space. After neighbors protested the plan, including placing signs all over the neighborhood last year, the City Council told project leaders to go back and create a new design.
The current plan, now the fourth different design to be drawn up, calls for a 622-square-foot facility over the well and the removal of three trees — one that already had to be removed because it’s dying, city officials said. It’s proposed to be 13 feet tall and about 17½ feet wide. Salt Lake City senior planner Kelsey Lindquist said they’ve also replaced plans for a chlorine injection system within the facility by switching to a calcium hypochlorite tablet system. The building’s exterior design has also been modified to be closer to the historic buildings in the neighborhood but with a modern twist.
John Ewanowski, project manager for CRSA Architecture and the project’s architect, said the new design is closer to feedback given by residents over the past year and also the neighborhood’s history. For example, river rock is proposed for some of the project and that was used for a wall that surrounded Brigham Young’s property that existed not far from the current well.
"Through the design, we’re really trying to blend the utilitarian (designs), the residential and pull in some of those monumental elements from Memory Grove, which is pretty close — a couple of hundred yards away to the north — from the site," he told the commission. "This is a pedestrian-heavy stretch of road and there’s that path that meanders through the park to the east of the building, so we want to respect the pedestrian scale of the neighborhood."
The choice of materials and color of the bricks was one of the top concerns brought up during the public comment period. The design process was also critiqued by residents during the meeting. Residents Cindy Cromer and Linnea Noyes said it would have been helpful to know the inventory of historic structures and historic materials used in the surrounding area before selecting the materials for the project.
"This particular color and the type of brick that was chosen was a disappointing choice as far as I’m concerned — and I live directly across the street from the structure," Noyes said.
Ewanowski said that redder-looking brick considered would especially stick out during the winter, so the brownish color was selected because it’s closer to other buildings in the area and will blend better throughout the year. Planning officials also pointed out the color in projected designs does look a bit different than the final result.
Noise pollution was another concern brought up during the meeting. Shane Franz, who identified himself as a property owner near the facility, said he was concerned about the acoustic design of the building, especially that it could lead to noise pollution in the neighborhood.
"There are indeed park benches in this park. It’s a place where families frequently come and picnic and relax," he said. "If you go sit on the benches, it’s a quiet oasis just around from the noise in the city. You can hear the wrestling of the leaves. You can hear the water babble down the creek. If you listen carefully enough, you can hear insects fly. Ladies and gentlemen, this is going to ruin this atmosphere in the park."
He also suggested a second set of doors to serve as a sound trap. Ewanowski downplayed noise concerns. He said eliminating windows and making other material adjustments reduced the impact of an 86-decibel pump. In a PowerPoint presentation, officials listed the overall sound transmission from the facility was about 46 decibels. For comparison, a bird call is 44 decibels, according to IAC Acoustics. He added that the pump will also be balanced so it won't create ground vibrations.
Before the vote, commission officials said they trusted logistics brought forward during the meeting. David Richardson, one of the commission members, pointed out that he lives about 600 feet from the well. He was supportive of the amendments made.
"I feel like it will truly affect my microneighborhood but to that end, I think the public process has had a very successful outcome," he said. "I commend public utilities (and other project designers). I really commend you for helping us as a community through this."
If approved by the City Council, public utilities officials say they hope construction can begin by end of the year.