The Grand County Council is once again considering rezoning a 20-acre parcel in Spanish Valley owned by Judy and Gary Carmichael. If approved, zoning for the lot would be changed from large lot residential to small lot residential.
Potential developers of the property have promised to build an affordable housing development on the site. Although council members expressed interest in the plan during a Feb. 7 meeting, county officials have said there may be no actual legal means to guarantee that affordable housing outcome through a rezone.
Danielle Pope, one of the possible developers, told the council that she and her husband have offered “to sign whatever documents needed to be signed to move forward, proving in any way possible that we are very interested in doing affordable housing on this property.”
“Moab has done nothing but give to us,” Pope said, adding that she and her husband live in Salt Lake City but have a long personal history with the community. “We literally want to be able to give back.”
According to documents provided to the council, the Popes plan to build a 160-unit manufactured home community on the property, where residents could purchase a house and land starting at $170,000, a home with a land lease starting at $70,000, or rent starting at $900 per month.
“The residents of Moab deserve to have an opportunity to have a development built for them where they can afford housing in their own city. We believe we have the ability to do that,” Pope said. “It’s kind of like the perfect storm right now. We have a landowner that wants to sell their property, and it’s at a price point where we would be able to come in and develop something that is affordable.”
But there may be no way to actually guarantee that outcome with a rezone, said Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine. Even if the developers signed an agreement, contract zoning is not allowed in Utah, he told the council.
“The issue that I would suggest is more concerning is that in the state of Utah contract zoning is expressly illegal. Which means that you cannot rezone a property based on the requirement that once the rezone is granted, a certain development comes to fruition,” Levine said.
He recommended that the council seek the Grand County County Attorney’s advice, adding that the issue may become dicey if it ends up in court.
“ ... If an applicant [wanted] to do something different than what was included in the development agreement, a judge could easily construe that the development agreement was, in effect, the mechanism by which contract zoning was accomplished,” Levine said. “And so, again, the outcome of that is that the county would not be able to hold the property owner liable for developing to a certain proposal.”
Guaranteeing affordability by way of a rezone has been the central issue with the property since Judy Carmichael first brought the application to the planning commission and the county council last year. At that time she expressed hopes for 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.
The Popes then brought the planning commission their ideas for an affordable manufactured home community on Jan. 11, again asking that the property be rezoned from large-lot residential to small-lot residential.
The planning commission denied the rezone application by a 5-2 vote, 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.
“I know we need affordable housing,” said planning commissioner David Tubbs on Jan. 11. “But because of the fact that we have no control once we rezone, I won’t vote for it.”
Although he argued that the county is “begging and choosing” when it comes to affordable housing, county council member Curtis Wells also expressed concern about “rely[ing] on a handshake.”
During the public hearing Feb. 7, planning commission member Joe Kingsley, speaking as a private citizen, urged the council to find some legal means to work with the Popes.
“If there can be a legal way that this proposal can be held accountable, I strongly recommend you move forward,” Kingsley said. “ ... With [the Popes] volunteering and offering to work with the county and do this in a way that is guaranteed, I personally feel this is a very good project.”
But local resident Bonita Kolb argued against making any decisions on rezoning based off a development proposal. She noted that the rezone is not currently supported by the county’s guiding document on such decisions — the general plan and the future land use plan.
“The county plan really is the best template for balance that we could hope for at this point in time. It should be and it will be changed with the times,” Kolb said. “However, that alteration should occur as an intensive process in which the ... opinions of the entire community [are] sought and everybody is encouraged to participate. How else can we balance the competing values and needs of our citizens?”
Levine has identified updating the general plan as a “top priority” for the planning commission to address in 2017, which would include a public process in which the community could participate.
The county council will vote on whether to allow the rezone during its regular meeting on Feb. 21. The council will accept public comments on the matter through Feb. 15. Comments may be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to: Grand County Council, 125 E. Center St., Moab, UT 84532.