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Religion says rezoning request in SLC could harm spiritual practices

Posted at 9:51 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 11:43:13-05

SALT LAKE CITY — In recent years, a number of large apartment buildings have been constructed in or near downtown Salt Lake City.

Now, a developer behind some of those projects would like to build a six or seven story apartment building in an area that’s never had a residential unit of that scale, along 900 South near 700 West.

High Boys Ventures calls the project “The West End”.

The owner of High Boy Ventures, Maximilian Coreth, is excited for the potential of the new project.

“I am most excited about our plan to reactivate the two existing barrel-roof buildings by creating a public plaza in between that will also serve as the gateway/ entrance to the eventual multi-family development," he wrote in an email to FOX 13. "My goal is to not only make this a destination for the local neighborhood by bringing businesses to these commercial buildings but also draw people from other areas of SLC to discover the Jordan River trail and some of the other gems on the Westside."

In addition to the proposed apartment building, two existing brick buildings at the site are already being refurbished, with plans to turn them into retail spaces.

But before an apartment building rises, the Salt Lake City Council will need to approve a zoning change which has been requested by the developer.

The owners of the adjoining property at 707 Genesee Avenue are less than enthusiastic.

“When we found out, we were very concerned,” said Su Menu, President of Summum, a religion headquartered on a small campus which includes a greenhouse, a rectory, offices, and a 27 foot tall pyramid where services and meditations take place.

“This is consecrated ground,” said Ron Temu, a longtime member.

Summum was started in the 1970’s by a man named Corky Ra who believed, among other things, that human and animal mummifications provide spiritual benefits.

As he gained more followers, Ra envisioned building a pyramid in an east side neighborhood, where churches of other denominations blend into the suburban landscape. But due to a need to produce Summum’s own sacramental wine, Ra looked for properties where Utah law would allow it, settling on Genesee Avenue.

For decades, Summum’s members have maintained the lot with care, turning it into a verdant oasis amidst an area of industrial decay.

But now, Salt Lake’s building boom is expanding into that area.

A zoning change which would allow for a 75 foot tall apartment building could be approved as soon as next week.

Summum fears such a building could box their property in on both the south and west sides, blocking sunlight from their property which, they say, would interfere with meditations and the growing of vegetables and herbs shared with members

“These are what we call our ‘spiritual plants’,” said Bernie Aua, a Summum Officer as he showed Fox 13 the greenhouse.

“It’s sort of like in the Jewish tradition. Foods being Kosher. They’re blessed,” Aua said.

Coreth believes that they'll be able to come to a happy medium during the design process.

“In discussions with Sumum, we have committed to remaining engaged with our neighbors during the design process to address their concerns,” he wrote in the email.

Menu says she met with High Boy Ventures once, long after their planning was underway, and it didn’t assuage her concerns.

For High Boy Ventures, choosing another property is difficult, because each project is designed with the community in mind.

“All our projects are very site-specific and referencing another property as a comparable would not be appropriate," Coreth responded in an email. "Given the unique conditions of the existing barrel-roof buildings to the west and the freeway to the east of the property, we will come up with a design that is most suitable for these unique site conditions while respecting community needs."

If Summum’s “spiritual plants” wont grow in the shadow of a large building, they say they’ll consider legal action, but for now, they’re hoping the developer, their city councilman, and the mayor might take them up on a tour of their property to better understand their concerns.

“No one has even bothered to take a tour here, and it might be helpful,” said Menu.