- Jesse Fruhwirth
- Elizabeth MacQueen stands in front of Carpet Barn's unimproved sidewalk.
The MacQueens estimate implementing the urban trail, landscaped buffers, sprinkler system and lighting could cost them $40,000.
In 1999, West Valley City hoped to polish the now-seven-lane highway for the 2002 Olympics by requiring businesses to plant trees, buy special $3,000 lampposts and use 30 feet of their frontage as two landscaped buffers and one 10-foot urban trail. Only new buildings or those using at least $50,000 to remodel must comply, which has led to some strange results.
Where there was once a 7-foot sidewalk abutting the road, West Valley now dictates a 15-foot buffer berm between the road and sidewalk. As a result, some areas where the new style meets the old require a sign to ensure that people don’t walk on the newly landscaped buffer berm. The city has no official estimate for how many businesses have complied with the Redwood Road Streetscape regulations, but 11 years after its passage (with some amendments over time), there are still very large stretches of noncompliance where there are no trees, no berms and no required sprinkler systems.
Elizabeth MacQueen, Ken’s daughter, grew up around the smell of carpet at her parents’ outlet store. She says the beautification ordinance stings because their insurance payment was lower than they need to rebuild, and sales at their temporary location are slow due to the recession. Elizabeth points to Salt Lake City, where North Temple businesses recently received lowered service fees related to that city’s beautification effort. “Don’t force business owners to pay it, not now,” she says. “Put a moratorium on it for now.”
A moratorium is not likely, however.
“There hasn’t been any consideration made for that,” says West Valley City Community and Economic Development Director Nicole Cottle. The intention of the overlay zones for “high-image arterial streets,” such as Redwood Road, is to make pedestrian travel more enjoyable and raise the value of the entire city. Cottle wouldn’t estimate how many years it might take to finish implementation. “The good news about West Valley City is we are a relatively young city, and we are just now coming into our own, so to speak.”
The MacQueens have their doubts. “Doing it piecemeal will take 200 years, because a lot of these people aren’t going to do a damned thing,” Ken says. Elizabeth adds, “I don’t think having a 3-foot berm intermittently up and down Redwood Road is going to make people want to buy carpet.”
Rather than force businesses to pay for beauty, Elizabeth says, the city should take the 30 feet by eminent domain and build the trail themselves with grants or stimulus money. Elizabeth also believes the city should be responsible for maintenance, like replacing the fancy lampposts, for example, should a passing motorist crash into one.
While the city is sternly enforcing the rules on the Carpet Barn, it hasn’t done so with everyone. A state liquor store and the Salt Lake County-owned Redwood Road Recreation Center were both recently remodeled but did not improve their streetscape. Cottle says government buildings are beyond their control.
“The state does not comply with our land requirements. We have no authority over them,” Cottle says. The same goes for the county.
City Weekly tried to talk to other business owners who have complaints about the beautification efforts, but none wanted to speak publicly. Elizabeth says one small-business owner who is mostly in compliance fears getting cited for dandelions if he complains.
Another irritant for the MacQueens is the assistance the city has paid to other, larger businesses. On the other side of town, Green River Capital LC, a financial firm, received $100,000 in city incentives to keep 200 jobs in West Valley. Cardinal Health got a similar package.
That may be enough for the MacQueens to take the Carpet Barn off Redwood Road for good, leaving behind another empty lot on one of West Valley City’s most well-known roads. Ken MacQueen says, “I just won’t do it. To me, it’s more this fairness issue. They beat up a small-little guy and then they let the big guys slide.”