Longtime councilwoman talks history and the future of Sugar HouseApr 19, 2021 11h06 ● By Daniel Smith
Judi Short is the longest-serving council member on the community council. (Photo courtesy Sugar House Community Council website)
By Daniel Smith | [email protected]
Sugar House is undoubtedly a vibrant area. Although it was named for the sugar beets which Mormon settlers grew in this area, it is now more known for its local businesses, variety of restaurants, and plethora of breweries and bars.
However, this vibrancy comes with a price. Over the past several decades, Sugar House has been subject to rampant expansion. Residents who have been around for as long as Sugar House Community Councilwoman Judi Short can attest to the scope and rate of this expansion, and some are worried about what it might lead to.
Short is distinguished for serving the longest continuous term on the Community Council. Her involvement began when Gene Davis—now a Utah senator—was campaigning door-to-door.
“He knocked on my door trying to get my vote and he ended up telling me about the council. I went to the next meeting and I’ve been going ever since. I hate to say it, but that was in 1988,” she said.
Throughout her 32-year (and counting) term on the council, Short has witnessed the transformation of Sugar House from a hidden gem to the bustling community that it is today. Around the time when Short joined the council, Sugar House was known as the place to go for furniture and local goods.
“We had furniture stores up and down Highland Drive. And then a lot of little stores. We had no chain stores that I’m aware of,” she said. As Sugar House grew and more businesses and residents moved in, population and traffic increased. Chain stores began to appear where locally owned shops once stood. While Short says that the council has tried to keep things local, she acknowledges that “we don’t own the property,” and that it is the property owners who ultimately decide what sort of businesses and residences to sell space to.
This is a problem with which Short is closely involved. As the Land Use and Zoning Committee Chair, Short meets with business and property owners to discuss plans for new developments. “I think in Sugar House that we have a pretty strong reputation. The city will often say, ‘Hey, you better go talk to Judi Short before you get too far with this.’” Short and her committee share a close relationship with developers. “We sit and talk with them about what they’re planning,” Short said. The committee provides feedback and suggestions, stating what they like or dislike about the project, and works with developers and property owners to come up with plans that satisfy both the developers and the committee. “We’ll do this three or four times before [the developers] actually submit a project to the city.”
Short consults Sugar House’s master plan when guiding such meetings. The plan consists of a series of codified guidelines regarding what sort of developments should go in which areas of the city. Though this master plan “hasn’t been updated since 2005” the committee will often consult it when talking through proposals.
And there have been no shortage of proposals for the committee to discuss. As of March 5, there had already been roughly “200 petitions for big projects” in Sugar House and the surrounding Salt Lake City area.
Short worries that Sugar House’s already expensive land will continue to rise in price as rapid growth continues. Moreover, few residential proposals involve the building of single-family homes. In the past couple of decades, Short says that only about two dozen single-family homes have been approved. The rest are high-rise apartment buildings. This, she said, is making it more difficult to raise a family here.
Exacerbating the issues surrounding the rising cost of living and the increase in population is a lack of updates in infrastructure and public transit. More people in Sugar House means more traffic, more cars, and an ever-increasing demand for parking spaces. Short sees bolstering Utah’s public transit system as the most viable way to manage these issues.
Although she is concerned with the rate at which Sugar House is growing, Short has hope for the future. “I think it will all settle down eventually. Right now we have a lot of people saying ‘This isn’t the kind of Sugar House I wanted it to be when I bought my house here.’” For her part, Short is working with those who hold the city’s future in the balance to help bring about the kind of Sugar House she believes residents want.
For information and to view the master plans and the Land Use and Zoning Committee’s past and upcoming agenda, visit sugarhousecouncil.org.