Council to vote on West side plan to turn land into homeless housing village

Oct 18, 2022, 8:16 PM | Updated: 8:20 pm

POPLAR GROVE, Utah — Salt Lake City Council members will vote Tuesday night whether or not to re-zone a stretch of land on the West side to become a new homeless village.

The decision has raised concerns for those living closest to the plot of land, and some feel the city is backtracking on a plan they agreed to years ago.

The west side of Salt Lake City is home to some of Utah’s most diverse communities.

“I lived here for 23 years and I love the area. I love my neighbors,” Poplar Grove resident, Lucia Rodriguez, said.

Residents also say it’s where they see the greatest disparity in the city. 

“If our kids cannot go to the parks in our neighborhoods because they’re littered with syringes, use syringes, human feces, and a plethora of trash; if I go to the east side, I find parks that are free of this, that’s a clear disparity,” Esther Stowell with the Poplar Grove Community Council said.

“We are sorely lacking amenities; we don’t have enough grocery stores or pharmacies or places to eat,” Poplar Grove Community Council member, Jason Seaton, said.

Now, a new proposal has them worried.

A decade ago, Salt Lake City leaders recognized this 45-acre plot of land at 1850 West on Indiana Avenue as a place for commercial and community development. Then, in 2021, a proposal was made to re-zone those acres for a new community for the homeless.

“We already have a bad situation. We have homeless, you know, wandering on our streets,” Rodriguez said. 

There are two correctional facilities and a halfway house already in the area.

“Not in my backyard? No, it’s all in my backyard, and that’s the problem,” Seaton said.

Revitalizing the West side started in 2011 with institutional collaborations. In 2014, the Westside Master Plan was introduced, designating the plot where residents wanted to “celebrate the diversity of the community” with restaurants, public spaces for neighborhood events, and specialized commercial shops.

“Put something into the community that will provide jobs for the residents, not just those that are in here, and create a space for my community to utilize, that will benefit us so that we’re not going out to West Valley, to SugarHouse and Farmington to do the basic shopping needs that we have,” Stowell said. 

Alejandro Puy with the Salt Lake City Council said the city tried for a decade to attract commercial business to the plot of land. 

“There has not been any interest by any developer or by any commercial supermarket or otherwise to use this land because there is a lot of mitigation and mitigation costs millions of dollars to do,” Puy said. 

An interested party came forward in 2021. The CEO of the Other Side Academy requested re-zoning 28.5 acres so they could create “the other side village” — a permanent housing community with 430 tiny homes, a 600 seat performance hall, and an interfaith religious center, to help those who are chronically homeless.

“Our belief is that for those that are chronically homeless, the biggest challenge is not just getting a roof over your head,” Joseph Grenny, chair of the Other Side Academy, said, “it’s learning to reintegrate into society that’s different than the way you might have been living for the last few years.”

Grenny said they’ve already seen immense success with their academy on the East side, which provides a program for those who have been incarcerated.

The village isn’t a new idea. Grenny based their model off of a village in Austin, Texas, called “Community First,” that housed 220 folks and are expanding to house more than a thousand.

“Am I optimistic? Yes. Do I think it’s going to be easy? Absolutely not,” Grenny said. 

Based on community feedback, Puy said they’re considering re-zoning and leasing just eight acres for a trial run, and he says he’s drafting a contract with specific protections in place for his community.

“There has to be a fence around the front, there has to be some landscape, there has to be, like, protections,” Puy said.

Even with a contract, some residents still worry about the impact.

“I don’t know that my community should take on that responsibility, because as much as Salt Lake City says that it’s a Salt Lake City responsibility, we are going to be the ones dealing with the impact of it. The direct impact will be on this community,” Stowell said. 

The Salt Lake City Council is holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday where they plan to vote on whether or not to re-zone the acreage or wait for a different opportunity.

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Council to vote on West side plan to turn land into homeless housing village