Yalecrest’s defense of single-family zoning is bad for the community and the planet

The tradition is racist in origin and encourages unnecessary suburban sprawl.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Historic Curators are hosting a walking tour of a few blocks in Yalecrest on Saturday, October 24, 2015, to educate neighbors and homeowners who live in historic neighborhoods about the uniqueness of where they live. Over the past 20 years, at least 32 historic homes have been demolished here to make way for mega-homes and the tour is meant to showcase the value of the historic neighborhoods.

Last Thursday at the Yalecrest Community Council and KEEP Yalecrest “community meeting” regarding the city government’s planned reforms to zoning laws, I flaunted protocol by making a comment instead of asking a question to the panelists.

It is nonetheless unfortunate that the Yalecrest ward council could not maintain civility. In the middle of my remarks, the meeting moderator physically snatched the microphone from my hands. So I decided to send for publication my entire public comment at the recent meeting so that readers can judge whether it justified such a violent gesture:

“In 1909, San Francisco established the first legal instance of what is known as R1 zoning – better known as single-family zoning – which was applied to a neighborhood called Elm Wood Park. The planned installation of a a predominantly black dance hall in Elm Park has been cited as the reason for the new zoning law.

“Similar zoning laws quickly spread from California to the rest of the United States, including the Yalecrest neighborhood of Salt Lake City, which grew out of this type of zoning. Later, the practice of single-family zoning became largely the substitute policy for the laws that until then had mandated legal segregation of housing. You can’t explicitly ban people of color from your neighborhood, but you can effectively ban low-income people with zoning laws.

“The racist current underlying these policies was exacerbated in 1934, when the US government adopted a policy of denying government benefits to the most racially diverse neighborhoods, in a process called redlining. Yalecrest is among the single-family neighborhoods that received federal benefits, as opposed to low-income neighborhoods in the same city.

“It is now illegal to build anything other than single-family areas in 75% of US residential neighborhoods. The current housing crisis has its roots precisely in these laws. The crisis will only get worse as, in our fast-growing state, property developers compete to build ever more expensive apartments on the little space they are allowed to develop.

“Wherever zoning reforms are proposed, they are rebuffed by those who prefer to ‘preserve the character of the neighborhood’ rather than sacrifice a small portion of their personal comforts to ease the burden on low-income residents and families.

“A lot of you, after I sit down, will stand up and say, ‘Well, of course I care about affordable housing. Of course our community needs affordable housing, I agree with that. I share your concern. I don’t want it here. Not in my garden.’

“Which backyard will these developments be in then? The Avenues? Sugar House? How can we ask these neighborhoods to build affordable housing projects if we are not willing to have them in ours?

“Another problem with single-family zoning: our planet (Utah included) is currently burning due to runaway fossil fuel emissions, and it is precisely the pervasiveness of single-family zoning laws that poses one of the biggest obstacles. critical to the resolution of this crisis.

“Suburbs represent only a quarter of America’s population but, due to their various inefficiencies, suburbs account for half of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by residential spaces in this country. Because every affordable housing estate banned from building here is another suburb built in Lehi, our decision to block necessary reforms to our zoning laws will directly contribute to the ongoing climate catastrophe that threatens the stability of human civilization itself.

“We can’t deconstruct the suburb of Yalecrest, but we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring that more suburbs don’t have to be built far from the city centre. It would be a single huge step to curb climate change.

Last Thursday’s “community meeting” was truly a well-reinforced echo chamber of self-reliant commuters seeking to propagate an early conclusion rather than nurture bona fide community discussion; that is, no panelists in favor of the proposed reforms were invited.

I nevertheless call on everyone to attend as many meetings regarding the proposed zoning laws as possible and to voice their support for the reforms, which are a critical opportunity to help tackle wealth inequality and climate change. We must meet the NIMBYs at KEEP Yalecrest with as much opposition as possible.

Atticus Edwards is a longtime resident of the Yalecrest neighborhood.

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