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South Salt Lake Journal

As SSL develops, the Planning Commission stays busy

Feb 24, 2021 02:03PM ● By Bill Hardesty

The Planning Commission changes the look of the city by approving land use. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Every municipality has one, but unless you are a land developer or business owner, chances are you have no idea what a Planning Commission does. State Code (Utah Code §10-9a-301) requires a Planning Commission, and Section 302 outlines their power and duties.

"The Planning Commission plays an important role in shaping and implementing the City's vision for future growth and development. The Planning Commission helps shape how our City will grow, from assistance with the development of general plans and zoning maps to the approval and/or recommendations of approval of future projects," Laura Vernon, chairperson and District 4 commissioner, said.

There are two essential power and duties. The first is to review and make recommendations to the City Council, which is the City's legislative body, for a general plan and amendments to the general plan. Currently, SSL is updating their general plan. One purpose of a general plan is to guide city development for the next 20 to 30 years. City staff is still seeking public input at

The second power and duty are land-use regulations such as zoning, subdivision or use policies. Sometimes the Planning Commission is the "Land Use Authority," which means they are the decision maker. Other times, the City Council is the "Land Use Authority." City Code determines the difference.


Alex White, director of Community Development, explained that land-use proposals are categorized as either administrative acts or legislative acts. Administrative act like Conditional Use Permits are reviewed by city staff and presented to the Planning Commission for a final decision. Legislative land-use proposals like rezoning require review by the Planning Commission. The commission makes a recommendation to the City Council, which makes the final decision.

Typically, the City Council follows the recommendation of the Planning Commission, but not always. A recent example is the Strong Used Car lot at 2354 S. State St. Last July, Strong Auto Group asked for a temporary rezoning of the property to operate a used car lot for two years. The issue is the property, which is now vacant, is within the City's Mixed-use Subdistrict of the Downtown District. High-density and high-intensity redevelopment are planned for this area. 

After consideration, the Planning Commission voted not to recommend the temporary rezoning. However, the City Council approved it because of the economic advantage and the two-year limit.

SSL Planning Commission

There are seven members of the commission roughly organized around the five council districts. In some cases, there are two commissioners from the same district. There are also two alternates who can form a quorum or replace a member of the commission. 

The Mayor appoints them for a four-year term. They also receive advice and consent from the City Council. The longest serving planning commissioner is Jeremy Carter. The shortest serving members are Liz Gabbitas and Clarissa Williams. 

When an opening occurs, the Mayor reviews the pool of interested residents. All residents who express an interest are asked to submit a resume and proof of residency.

"Every effort is made to fill seats with residents of diverse professional backgrounds and personal experiences," Mayor Cherie Wood said. "Additionally, they are made aware of the significant time commitment of serving on the commission."

Residents interest in serving on the Planning Commission should contact Alex White in the Community Development Office for more information.  

What commissioners need to know

The Planning Commission deals with very technical information. Here is a brief overview of some of the information:

Zone map

SSL has numerous zones across the city. Zones, which are also known as districts, define what is allowed and what is not allowed on the land. The purpose and standards are outlined in City Code. Districts might be created to spur economic growth, such as the Downtown District or the Historical and Landmark District protecting such areas as the Historic Scott School.

The obvious example is when an area is zoned R-1 (residential), a large retailer can't come in and buy the property and build a big box store at 2700 South and 500 East. Another example is the Jordan River District, where the minimum lot areas are 1/2 acre, which means a business can't build a hotel looking over the river.

However, there are ways around the standards by using zone overlays. An overlay allows different standards to supersede the underlining standards. A case in point is the SSLPD Overlay. This allows the David P. Romrell Public Safety Building to remain on Main Street which is zoned as Commercial Neighborhood or in the case of Strong Auto, a Temporary Transitional Beneficial Use (TTBU) Overlay district was created, so the underlining Downtown District standards were only set aside for two years.

Zones can be large areas or a parcel of land. For example, the Flex District, which runs west of 300 West to the Jordan River and 2100 South to 3900 South, is large. The Flex District is for warehousing and industrial uses. On the other hand, the Granite MPMU (Multi-Use) district was created for the northern part of the old Granite High property. This allows precise standards on this property that are not generally required. Further, this district has a library subdistrict allowing additional standards for the library and property.

Permitted and conditional uses

The Planning Commission is obligated to approve land uses listed in the City Code as permitted or conditional uses. White explained that "These are uses that the Planning Commission and City Council have previously agreed that should be allowed within the specific areas of the City."

For example, farmers markets are permitted in the Historical and Landmark and City Facility Districts. However, an individual wanting to have a farmers market in the Commercial Corridor District or in the Open Space Districts would need to apply for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). A CUP allows a person or business to use the property for particular use for a specific time under certain conditions. If the conditions are not met during the time of the permit, the City can revoke the CUP. A CUP can be renewed.

"The only basis that the Planning Commission may use to deny a potential use is on the basis of health, safety, or welfare of the general public, and even then only may deny if the circumstance that would be detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare’ cannot be mitigated (or managed)," White said. "The Planning Commission may not deny a potential use that the city has anticipated in the Code just because a group of residents doesn't like it or doesn't want the use near their home or children."

Land Use Matrix

A Land Use matrix is part of the City Code (Title 17, Chapter 3). A variety of uses are listed in the first column. All the districts and overlays are listed on the top row. If a cell is grayed out, the use is not allowed in that district. If there is a "P," the use is a permitted use, and if there is a "C," a CUP is required. 

How to get involved 

Often residents get involved when an excavator is overturning dirt and construction has started. It is too late. 

"The best way for residents to interact with the commission is to pay attention to the agendas and provide comments in public hearings that are held," White said.

Community Development highly recommends when a comment is made, it should be based on facts and not emotion or NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) type thinking.