Special Exception Code Changes

Special Exception Code Changes

UPDATE:  Here is the letter written by SHCC to the Planning Commission.  We don’t yet have a date for the hearing.   https://sugarhousecomm.wpengine.com/special-exception-letter-shcc-to-pc-with-comments/

The special exception code changes project is a proposal to eliminate the special exception process from the Salt Lake City Zoning Ordinance. There are more than 40 authorized exceptions in the zoning ordinance. This proposal would either:

  • Prohibit specific modifications that are routinely denied;
  • Allow by-right specific modifications that are routinely approved;
  • Move specific exceptions to other processes already authorized in the ordinance.

The number of special exception applications have grown from 37 in 2011 to 149 in 2019. The increase is directing staff resources away from addressing citywide growth-related issues and instead focusing staff resources towards individual developments. Special exceptions required the equivalent of almost two full time employees to process the applications in 2019. This accounts for about 10% of the total workload.


Special exceptions are minor changes to an incidental use of property or a dimensional requirement in the zoning ordinance. Examples include additional fence height, additions to buildings that don’t meet current setback requirements, outdoor dining, taller accessory buildings, utility boxes in park strips, and other similar types of changes.

The process includes a mailed notice to next door neighbors for input before a decision.  More than 95% of the applications are approved. The decisions are usually made by planning staff, but controversial requests or requests that cannot be approved by staff are referred to the Planning Commission or Historic Landmark Commission.


The special exception process creates a number of issues:

  • Special exceptions require staff resources to be allocated to processing applications that only benefit individual property owners instead of addressing citywide growth issues and implementing master plans through other code updates.
  • The zoning ordinance is forcing an inequitable subsidy of city resources to the benefit of individual property owners without any benefit to the general public. The application fees cover between 10% and 40% of the total cost to process the application with the rest being covered through the general fund.
  • Special exceptions result in a complicated zoning ordinance that is difficult and costly to administer.
  • The number of exceptions results in development patterns being unpredictable.
  • Special exceptions also create confusion with applicants because they often believe that the request will be approved and are surprised when the application is denied.

View the Proposed Special Exception Code Changes 

NOTE: You can review the exact special exceptions and what will happen to each of them on pages 5 and 6 of the Proposed Special Exception Code Changes (see link above)

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or would like to get involved on this planning effort, please contact:

End of the Public Comment Period: October 10, 2020

Nick Norris // Planning Director // nick.norris@slcgov.com

You can give the Sugar House Community Council feedback to go along with their letter to the Planning Commission regarding these changes:

    Please prove you are human by selecting the tree.



    Judi Short