Salt Lake City

City Council

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Landscaping & Buffers Chapter Amendments

The City Council is reviewing a proposal to update the City’s landscaping ordinance. The Council will also consider a recommendation from the Planning Commission to prohibit the use of artificial turf in Salt Lake City.  

The updates are intended to better conform to the City’s goals of reducing water consumption, enhancing the urban forest, and improving air quality and green infrastructure. The updates would also simplify landscaping rules, making them easier to follow and enforce.  

The proposed changes do not modify the City’s longstanding vegetation requirement, which states at least 33% of a landscaped area or park strip surface must be covered with plants. However, the proposal would allow tree canopy to count towards the 33% vegetation requirement, which is currently not allowed by city ordinance.  

The updates to the City’s landscaping ordinance were initiated following feedback from the City Council during its discussions about the Urban Forest Action Plan.  

What do the changes do?  

The purpose of the landscaping ordinance changes is to: 

Improve water conservation by… 

  • Requiring water-wise and drought-tolerant landscaping reducing unnecessary water consumption.  
  • Maintaining the eligibility for all residents to apply the Flip Your Strip rebate programs through the CUWCD (Central Utah Water Conservancy District) and Utah Department of Natural Resources.  

Support Salt Lake City’s urban forest by… 

  • Allowing tree canopy to count toward the City’s 33% vegetation requirement for yards and park strips. 
  • Requiring irrigation systems for trees in a park strip for new construction or when landscaping is updated at a commercial property. 
  • Requiring trees in the City’s Northwest Quadrant. 

Reduce the urban heat island by… 

  • Limiting the amount of rock groundcover can be in a yard.  
  • Creating landscaping standards, which require more trees, for parking lots.  

Reduce stormwater runoff by… 

  • Requiring bioretention for parking lots with 50 or more stalls and allowing stormwater curb cuts.   
An example of bioretention and stormwater curb cuts along 300 West. 

Simplify city code by… 

  • Addressing the issue of artificial turf use by clarifying it is not allowed as landscaping. 
  • Removing duplicate or confusing standards that are difficult to implement and enforce. 

Artificial Turf

When the landscaping changes were initially presented to the Planning Commission (a step required before the Council), certain artificial turf types would have been permitted in front and corner yards. However, the Planning Commission was concerned about artificial turf’s impact on stormwater runoff due to harmful chemicals used in its manufacturing process. As part of its decision on the landscaping rule changes, the Planning Commission recommends the Council prohibit artificial turf. 

Artificial turf is often used as an alternative to live grass to save and conserve water. However, the Planning Commission and Public Utilities staff has communicated that its impact on the environment and water quality arguably outweighs its benefits. Recently, some cities, including Boston and several in California, have prohibited artificial turf. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some chemicals used in artificial turf are known carcinogens that can interfere with hormones, reproduction, and immunity and cause developmental delays in children.   

Next Steps

The Council will continue discussing the proposal at a future meeting (tentatively Tuesday, March 5). The Council will consider voting a future meeting (date TBD).

Stay tuned here for updates.

Resources

Residents may visit SLCGardenWise.com for water-wise landscaping resources and planting suggestions. 

Share your thoughts

Comments may be shared anytime online, by phone at 801-535-7654, or by email at Council.Comments@slcgov.com.

Meeting Recaps

February 20, 2024 Follow-up Briefing

Timestamp: 56:04

The Council held a follow-up briefing to discuss proposed amendments to landscaping and buffers rules. The discussion included clarification of the potential enforcement of artificial turf due to contaminants causing public health concerns.   

The Council will continue discussing this at a future meeting (tentatively, Tuesday, March 5). Stay tuned here for updates.

February 6, 2024 Follow-up Briefing

Timestamp 1:35:38

The Council continued discussing proposed changes to the City’s Landscaping and Buffers rules. In an informal poll, Council Members indicated support for modifications, including allowing a tree canopy to count towards the landscaping maximum and adjusting the definitions of allowable natural turf. 

The Council clarified that changes would not be retroactive, and some landscaping would be out of compliance, including residents who have installed artificial turf in front yards. The Council discussed potential enforcement and options to ease the transition to the new proposed guidelines. A public hearing was held on Jan. 9, and the Council could vote on Feb. 20.

January 9, 2024 Public Hearing

Timestamp: 3:47

January 9, 2024 Public Hearing

At its formal meeting, the Council accepted public comment on a proposed update to the City’s Landscaping and Buffers. The Council closed the public hearing and will consider voting on the proposal at a future meeting (date to be determined).  

December 12, 2023 Follow-up Briefing

Timestamp: 20:04

December 12, 2023 Follow-up Briefing:

The Council held a follow-up discussion on proposed changes to the City’s landscaping rules, which would further sustainability efforts and clarify the regulations.  

The discussion included that artificial turf is proposed to be banned because of harmful chemicals used in manufacturing that are shown to impact water and soil quality negatively. The Council also discussed potential adjustments to the other aspects of the proposal and will have further discussions on those at a later date.  

The Council held a public hearing at its formal meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 7 p.m.

December 5, 2023 Briefing

Timestamp: 2:21:14

December 5, 2023 Briefing:

The Council held an initial discussion to amend the City’s landscaping requirements to be consistent with water conservation and sustainability efforts. This discussion will continue at the Dec. 12 work session. 

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