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Murray Journal

How does Murray like the changes slated for its neighborhoods?

Jun 14, 2021 11:13AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Murrayites have strong feelings when it comes to future planning projects impacting their neighborhoods. The May 6 Planning Commission meeting clocked in at nearly four hours, with the proposed Bullion Street mixed-density development as the hot topic on the agenda.  

Residents near the development took issue with the developer’s proposal to rezone for mixed density instead of single-family homes for the site and organized to oppose the plan. Staff members of Murray City’s Office of Community and Economic Development were also called out by residents on why they recommended approval. In a rare close vote, Planning Commissioners Ned Hacker, Jake Pehrson, and Sue Wilson were outvoted by Jeremy Lowry, Lisa Milkavich, Travis Nay, and Maren Patterson to recommend approval to the city council.

Such contentious meetings might become more commonplace as developers and property owners seek to convert current and former retail properties into mixed-use development. The push to redo these properties has become so great that the city council has instituted a temporary moratorium on such projects. 

The Murray Journal surveyed 213 residents on their feelings about major development projects in process around the city. While some respondents wanted to include such issues as adding green space and performing arts venues to the city, the survey focused strictly on construction or zoning moving forward in the city.

As far as mixed-use development goes, Murrayites do not like it. Mixed-use zoning includes a mix of commercial and residential, including condominiums and apartments. Sixty percent of the respondents moderately or strongly disliked this zoning, while 25% viewed it favorably.

Some Utah state legislators have been pushing legislation forcing cities to approve more high-density zoning to ease Utah’s housing crunch. As the survey indicates, cities might be stuck between what residents want for zoning and what the legislature mandates. Legislative initiatives have not addressed the local government’s concerns about providing supportive infrastructure for such large-scale projects.

Currently, the only high-density, mixed-use development that is under construction is Murray Square (4200 South and 900 East), being built on the former Kmart site. Residents panned the design, with 48% moderately or strongly disliking it. 

Murray Square will feature 421 multi-family units along with 21,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. Residents in the neighboring Millcreek City Green Valley subdivision expressed concern to their city council about the four-story units that will border their neighborhood. Originally christened Van Winkle Crossing, Kimball Investments later changed the name to Murray Square.

Also under construction is the new Murray City Hall, and Murrayites are favorable to the architectural drawings for it. Of all respondents, 59% like it moderately or a great deal, while 20% have no strong feelings about it. As part of a more extensive Murray City Center District (MCCD) or downtown Murray, the city hall will bring most city departments under one roof. 

Most Murray residents, 37%, did not feel the city was transparent enough in selecting a city hall design. According to the city, “On July 16, 2019, Murray City elected officials reviewed a site plan and concept drawings for a new city hall building during a Committee of the Whole meeting.” Through the competitive bid process, GSBS Architects were awarded the contract. Yet, the city did not hold an open house on the new city hall, and it is unclear whether elected city officials solicited resident input. Murray City estimates that the whole project, with construction and land, will cost $34 million.

An even split might best describe Murray residents’ take on the large Murray downtown project that will radically change the westside of State Street. The MCCD (4800 S. State St.) property between 4800 South and 5th Avenue will have 273 residential units along with retail and commercial space. Of those completing the survey, 48% liked the proposed project, from “a little” to “a great deal,” while 43% disliked it.

MCCD’s downtown project has pitted historic preservationists against city planners, as the proposal calls for razing three buildings that are over 100 years old. Also, the council voted down a recommendation from the Community and Economic Development Department that would have eliminated the MCCD Design Review committee staffed with Murray residents.

Motions like these may have contributed to why a large majority, 37%, of respondents do not believe that there was enough transparency in selecting a Murray City Center District design. However, public feedback sessions are planned for this year. The bid committee that selected developer Gerdling Edlen (now Edlen & Company) not only consisted of elected officials Mayor Blair Camp and City Councilors Brett Hales and Dale Cox, but members of the mayor’s immediate staff, Chief Administrative Officer Doug Hill, and Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Heaps.

What respondents felt very strongly about and disliked the most is another MCCD design, and perhaps the most controversial, the Vine Apartments (184 Vine St.). Sixty-two percent disliked “a little” to “a great deal” the replacement plans for the former Mount Vernon School Campus (historic Murray First Ward and Carnegie Library buildings), only 25% liked them. The project will have 130 residential units along with 6,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

The adverse reaction may stem from the fight to preserve the historic buildings on the site, resulting in a successful lawsuit against the city to halt the demolition. The city, in turn, modified its code to allow for the removal of historic structures. Also, negative feedback mentioned on social media websites states that the Vine Apartments’ design is out-of-character with the surrounding subdivisions.

Survey respondents were united in their ambivalence regarding the new Utah Education Association building proposed to replace the current structure on 5100 S. 900 East and Center 53 (5300 S. 500 West). A majority of respondents neither liked nor disliked the designs.

Center 53, being constructed by Security National Financial Corporation and Nuterra Partners, plans to develop and lease approximately 1,000,000 square feet of commercial space. The complex includes five six-story buildings, one of which has been completed. 

Murray residents seem to be quite excited about the new Youthlinc building, slated to go in at 346 E. 4500 South. Sixty-seven percent of respondents liked “a little” to “a great deal” about the new youth center. The facility will provide program space for youth engaged in student leadership and service.