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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite many residents of west-side neighborhoods calling the proposed tiny village for the chronically homeless "a done deal" on Salt Lake City Council's end, council members have opted to extend public comment before issuing approval.
The Salt Lake City Council held a public hearing Tuesday regarding the tiny village and a rezoning request for the parcel of land near 1850 W. Indiana Ave. that would house the pilot project. The council's pending approval would have been the last step in the city planning process for the village to move forward, but it stalled with members electing to defer action to another meeting.
The hearing drew a mixed reaction from the public.
Many community councils or alliances appeared at the public hearing and voiced their support for the project, including Nigel Swaby of the Fairpark Community Council, who acknowledged the housing and affordability crisis as a growing issue.
"We do see the value of the Other Side Village project and consider it to be different than the other housing projects we've seen to date," Swaby said. "Our city could use more providers like the Other Side Village who build community, take pride in their work and are accountable for their actions and those of their residents. The homeless and crime situation in Salt Lake City is at the highest levels in history. It's urgent the city's leadership take concrete steps to reduce both. We believe the creation and expansion of the Other Side Village is a critical step."
The sentiment was also carried by Turner Bitton of the Glendale Neighborhood Council.
"As a lot of my neighbors have expressed tonight, homelessness and our unsheltered neighbors living in parks and public spaces are counting on us to advocate for them and to advocate for housing solutions. I think it's important tonight to speak in support of not only an innovative housing solution, but also much-needed economic development on the west side," Britton said.
Those who work directly with the Other Side Academy, the operator of the proposed Other Side Village, voiced support for its services. A man who identified himself as formerly homeless used the hearing to acknowledge the Other Side Academy's work to help him find housing.
"The tiny village is just part of the big picture but the program as a whole is just all-encompassing. So it's given me a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning," the man told the council.
Partners of the proposed village, such as Valley Behavioral Health, also encouraged the council to support the pending pilot project.
Concerns regarding the pilot project
Residents of the neighborhood expressed frustration regarding the potential use of the land, pointing to the possibility of economic development long promised to the west side area.
"The west side needs more opportunities to solve the housing crisis by building more housing and let the supply and demand settle over pricing. But no investors will look to building more residential properties when it's shoved up against a homeless shelter," one woman said. The west side has been burdened with "most of the city's dirty laundry," she said.
The sentiment was repeated by other residents, who expressed frustration at the city's process.
"It took 10 years of effort to get the RDA zone where this is going in so we could probably have grocery stores and pharmacies and places to eat, amenities for our portion of the city, which we sorely lack. And it only took Grenny a couple of months to snatch it out from us and the city has let it happen. All those people in front of you have said yes to this already," one man added, referring to Joseph Grenny, chairman of the Other Side Academy board.
Grenny was present during the hearing and acknowledged concerns.
"If I were living close to this community, I would ask many of the same questions," he said. "We're going to earn the trust and trust shouldn't be granted unequivocally. We ask that you look at the track record of the Other Side Academy. We came to the east side first, we now have 140 former felons living in a concentrated area on the east side and the crime rate has dropped as a result."
But some residents weren't swayed and expressed concerns regarding safety.
"My fear and concern is this is going to increase more drug activity, more violence, all this unnecessary stuff — especially near the school. We have kids that walk to and from school," one father said.
"Some kids on the east side are riding up and down their neighborhoods freely, not worrying about getting shot, not worrying about any issue. So if you cannot address that issue for me, first and foremost, then there's no way you should give 50 acres of my community to an organization who has never ran such an entity before," another resident added.
The mixed reactions regarding the proposed tiny village extended beyond residents to homelessness service providers. While some voiced support for the project, others questioned the methods and efficacy of the project extending beyond the nonprofit's experience in substance abuse into homeless services.
"What experience do they have at this point working with those folks with disabilities on medication? The Other Side Academy doesn't follow best practices that many other service providers do like trauma-informed care. I don't believe that they have the experience like other service providers who have been around our community for decades," one woman commented.
Next steps and the future of the project are not clear. The Salt Lake City Council's decision to extend the public comment period regarding the project and defer a decision comes with no end date.
"I would like to say personally that this is a very hard decision for many of us because of the concerns that my community sees and we have raised over the many months," said Councilman Alejandro Puy, following the motion to defer. "I want to give them another opportunity, to my community, to comment and to raise their voices for or against. It is important to listen to more of this and I think we can build a better community with more input."
The motion to defer a decision was unanimous.