On Monday evening, the Moab City Council passed an ordinance enacting a six-month moratorium on site plan review applications for commercial development, to allow city staff to revise the municipal code.
Citing vague definitions and regulations for when a site plan is required, and possible changes to setbacks, height restrictions, lot coverage and parking requirements and placement, Moab Community Services staff asked the council on Monday, Jan. 23 to approve the moratorium to provide additional time to update city code.
“The application process is confusing due to some of this language,” said Moab Community Services Director Amy Weiser. “There aren’t clear and objective standards in the code for reviewing and approving site plan applications.”
Weiser said community services staff and the planning commission are working to improve the language in city code to resolve the issues.
“We feel the moratorium would give staff the needed break and needed time to really look at the standards and come up with the best possible solution,” Weiser said.
Weiser estimated that the code revisions would take three to four months, after which time the moratorium could be lifted.
Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart described the needed changes as an “overhaul.”
“For way too long [code revision] has been a piecemeal type of process,” Reinhart said.
Commercial developments effected by the moratorium will include office, retail, wholesale, warehouse, manufacturing, restaurant, overnight lodging and recreation facilities, according to the ordinance. The moratorium would not apply to remodeling projects smaller than 10,000 square-feet or to multifamily residential development with less than 10 units.
“It seems like there’s so much confusion and ambiguity and aggravation for people, associated delays for developers, and that this [opportunity to update the code] could improve the quality of proposals and just get better outcomes for the community,” council member Rani Derasary said.
Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany described the moratorium as a “blunt-force” tool.
“It creates collateral impacts within the community in terms of its effect on development,” McAnany said. “We don’t raise this issue with the council lightly.”
Council member Heila Ershadi asked if the code revision goals could be accomplished without a moratorium.
“It’s potentially a lot of projects that would be put on hold,” she said.
“We are going to do these code revisions whether we have a moratorium or not,” Weiser replied. “The difference is, in the meantime, applications will keep coming in and once an application is submitted and deemed complete, it’s subject to the ordinances in effect at that time. So even if we know we’re going to be changing the ordinances in the future to require oversized parking or require employee housing or require different setbacks, we can’t require that in an application until it’s actually adopted in part of the code.”
Weiser said that until the code is updated, applications will be subpar and applicants will likely be frustrated with a confusing process.
Ershadi continued to express reluctance to impose a moratorium.
“It’s a fairness issue and people are trying to make a living in a town that’s hard to make a living in,” she said.
Weiser said the code changes will also benefit the community.
“I also think it’s a fairness issue to residents, not just developers,” Weiser said. “The residents are part of this onslaught of development that’s happening. They don’t feel they have much of a voice in the development that’s occurring and that’s because our ordinances are older. They don’t address a lot of the concerns that people are having today.”
McAnany said a moratorium would give city staff the opportunity to reach out to both the development community and to citizens, to solicit feedback about what they would like to see in the code and the site plan review application process.
The council approved the motion 4-1, with Ershadi voting against the moratorium.
“I’m not personally comfortable voting for it at this time because of [potential] unforeseen consequences that I may not have had time to consider or get public feedback on. But I do appreciate the intent and the goal,” Ershadi said.
Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd urged the community services department to proceed quickly with code revisions.
“We will,” Weiser said. “We’re excited to get it done.”