A 20-acre parcel of farmland in Spanish Valley owned by Judy and Gary Carmichael has again been denied a rezone by the Grand County Planning Commission. Developers interested in purchasing the property had asked that the land be rezoned from rural residential to small lot residential and promised the planning commission Jan. 11 that they would build an affordable housing subdivision on the site if the rezone were approved.
Citing no support in the county’s future land use plan for such a zone change, and no guarantee that those affordable housing plans would come to fruition, the commission voted 5-2 to recommend that the Grand County Council deny the rezone.
County planning officials said this week that the developers have not, at this time, asked to take their request to the county council.
Planning commission chairman David Tubbs said rezoning the land from rural residential to small lot residential would increase the maximum density of the property from 20 units to potentially 150 units.
“Right now, you’ve got 20 acres that allow 20 units. Do we want it to allow 150? Because we would have absolutely no control if we and the council agree to the rezone,” Tubbs said. “If we had a way to ensure that would happen, which we don’t, I’d gladly vote for it. Because I know we need affordable housing. But because of the fact that we have no control once we rezone, I won’t vote for it.”
Last year, Judy Carmichael told the planning commission and county council that she envisioned a 70-unit “affordable” subdivision on her farmland. But with no guarantee of that specific outcome, the county council voted against her 2016 rezone request.
“This upzone in my opinion has nothing to do with affordable housing,” then-county council chairwoman Elizabeth Tubbs said at the time. “You can make promises but I’m not looking at who’s doing this application. We need to try to be a little bit more objective and a little bit more fair in how we approach this.”
Now, developers Dave and Danielle Pope, who are interested in buying the Carmichael’s land, are promising they will build affordable housing, potentially through a manufactured home community. In their letter to the planning commission, they said residents could purchase, rent or rent-to-own manufactured homes.
The Popes said local residents “will have the option to rent, purchase, and even lease option one of the mobile homes, giving the residence [sic] of Moab ample opportunities to get into a home of their own.”
During the Jan. 11 meeting, there was some confusion as to whether the Popes would encourage overnight rentals. Although Danielle Pope said they do not plan to allow overnight rentals, their letter to the planning commission stated that “young out of state buyers” could purchase a home to use as a second home, renting them out nightly “while they are not here in Moab to offset the cost of owning.”
Planning commission members questioned the overnight rentals, with Joe Kingsley saying he’s “totally against” the prospect.
In response, Pope said that “as of right now [overnight rentals] are not the plan whatsoever in this community. No.”
During the meeting, Pope said if she could sign a document guaranteeing that the 20 acres must be an affordable development, she would “absolutely do that.”
“Our intention is for the whole thing to be affordable housing, whether that’s small single family, duplex, townhouse, whatever it is that will fit with the small lot residential zone change. There’s lots of different options,” Pope said.
Planning commission member Bob O’Brien said if the planning commission were voting on Pope’s actual plan for the development, he would “ask for all kinds of more details.”
However, O’Brien said their vote is to consider the rezone, not any potential plans for the property.
And currently, the rezone is not supported by the county’s future land use plan, most recently updated in 2012, county officials said. O’Brien pointed out that there is some “spot density” surrounding the Carmichael’s property, including the multi-family residential subdivision Rim Village.
“The question is do you add to it? Make it a big spot? Is that the best thing to do? ... It’s a dilemma that we’re in,” O’Brien said.
Kingsley and commission member Christine “Cricket” Green voted against denying the rezone application. Kingsley argued that it’s those surrounding densities that make the area favorable to a zone change.
“If you look at the map, to the south is extremely high density called Rim Village. If you look due west it’s the Spanish Trail Arena. If you look to the northeast there is an RV park,” Kingsley said. “It’s already surrounded by what I would consider mixed use anyway.”
Adding that he has “no axe to grind” with the issue, Kingsley said the planning commission simply has to “face reality” when it comes to affordable housing. Although the future land use plan identifies higher densities as being closer to town, current land costs render affordable housing developments virtually impossible in that area, he said.
“I think part of the housing problem is man made by us because we don’t face reality. The price of land in town ... [is] a quarter of an acre for $125,000. Right off the bat before you put a shovel in the ground you’re pushing the envelope of affordability,” Kingsley said. “And until we address that, we’re perpetuating the problem.”
Planning commission member Gerrish Willis said he agrees with Kingsley but he argued that the first step in addressing density and affordability must be in revisiting the future land use plan, a process that requires significant public involvement.
“Just because it’s an available piece of property that could be developed doesn’t mean it’s the right place to develop it,” Willis said. “I’d like for us to step back from the rezone at this time and relook at the future land use plan ... Having higher density five miles south of town with the transportation issues, I’m not sure it makes sense.”
Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine told The Times-Independent that revising the future land use plan is a “top priority” for the community development department and planning commission in 2017.