Two months into a temporary moratorium on bed and breakfasts in most residential zones, Grand County now has some updated amendments to consider. Members of the Grand County Planning Commission said their recommendations, which have been presented to the county council for discussion, are an attempt to fix potential loopholes. Those loopholes, they said, have allowed some business owners to operate their bed and breakfasts like hotels in residential neighborhoods, contrary to the “spirit” of current codes.
“Many, many bed and breakfasts in our community are run with the spirit of the code — they’re owned by the managers, they’re operated by the owners. They are there to provide a unique experience to travelers in our area. ...But that’s not the prevailing use of the bed and breakfasts today, I don’t think,” said Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine. “I think it’s fair to say that many of the recently approved bed and breakfasts are operated to meet the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law.”
Over the past several months, county leaders and staff say they have been inundated with public comment, largely sent from residents feeling “overrun” by bed and breakfasts managed like “mini-hotels” in their neighborhoods. Those comments prompted the Grand County Council to place a temporary moratorium in May on all new bed and breakfasts in most residential zones, while county leaders and staff work to resolve issues in the current code.
The county currently defines a bed and breakfast as “a facility of single-family residential character that provides sleeping accommodations and breakfast for hire on a day-to-day basis in which the proprietor or manager resides.” Some county residents say bed and breakfasts are not adhering to that quaint, quiet concept intended in the code but are instead operating a hotel in disguise.
“The new [bed and breakfasts] are not typically operated like traditional [bed and breakfasts]; they are essentially mini-hotels that attract large groups; their frat-party like reverberations affect entire neighborhoods,” said Moab resident Liz Thomas. “... At times it almost feels like we live in a campground, rather than our small, friendly neighborhood.”
With some recent amendments proposed in the land use code, planning commission member Gerrish Willis says the commission sought to protect bed and breakfast owners who meet the spirit of the law, while safeguarding against those business owners who do not.
“We had a lot of discussion about [how we can] accommodate people who own houses and for whatever reason, feel like they need a little extra income and want to operate a real, true bed and breakfast – not a hotel,” Willis said. “How can we accommodate that without giving other people the incentive of coming to Moab and building a place that they want to run as a hotel under existing regulations?”
In the planning commission’s draft proposal, bed and breakfasts are limited to the residential rural range and grazing zone as well as Grand County’s commercial zones.
In addition, the draft proposal amends a bed and breakfast’s maximum occupancy from an unspecified number of guests in no more than five separate bedrooms, to a maximum of six overnight guests in no more than three separate bedrooms.
Bed and breakfasts would also be “owner-occupied and owner managed,” and those owners must be present whenever guests are there. Currently, the code stipulates a “full-time, on-site resident manager,” but offers no specifics as to that individual’s responsibilities.
If the ordinance is approved by the county council, existing bed and breakfasts will have 10 years to come into compliance with the code.
Some residents told the council that their current issues with bed and breakfasts are perfectly exemplified by their experiences with a property listed on overnight accommodations websites as “Badlands Roost,” located on George White Road.
Levine said the house was constructed “solely for the purpose of being rented as a bed and breakfast.” While the Badlands Roost application met the letter of the law, Levine said the intent of the owner was “to run it as close to a generic, short-term rental as you could.”
“We received just a tremendous number of complaints about noise, traffic, disruptive behavior in the neighborhood,” Levine said.
During a July 18 public hearing, Badlands Roost neighbor Jean Binyon said the business is far removed from a “traditional bed and breakfast.”
“We have seen in the Highlands [area] a very disruptive ‘bed and breakfast,’” Binyon said. “It was built as a bed and breakfast, it’s not a spare bedroom that can be used for a bed and breakfast to raise revenue and provide accommodations. It was built as a bed and breakfast, it was licensed and permitted as bed and breakfast, and it is operated as an overnight rental.”
Binyon and other neighbors of Badlands Roost are calling on the county to remove bed and breakfasts altogether from residential zones and restrict them to the overnight accommodations overlay zone or only commercial areas.
But some county residents, including former council member Elizabeth Tubbs, who also lives on George White Road, said that enforceability — not restriction — is the answer.
“Unlike my neighbors, I am not in favor of moving the [bed and breakfasts] into the overnight accommodations overlay zone,” Tubbs said. “I believe we need stricter rules regarding regulation of [bed and breakfasts]. And I know this is a word nobody likes to deal with for lots of reasons — enforcement. That is the key to managing bed and breakfasts in residential neighborhoods.”
After hearing neighbor complaints, Levine said he met with Badlands Roost property owners this spring in order to find solutions and bring the property into compliance. Since those meetings, Levine said his office has not received complaints about that particular property.
The management company for Badlands Roost could not be reached for comment for this story.
During the July 21 meeting, county council member Curtis Wells called for compromise in the county’s regulations, saying that the community relies on the transient room taxes that bed and breakfasts generate.
“We can have a perfectly good compromise where we protect the integrity of the neighborhoods but still allow for commercial applications like bed and breakfasts. I would just like to remind everybody of that, that this is how we generate revenue for the county,” Wells said. “... We can’t be completely blind to that because we have a lot of pressing funding needs.”
With more than 100 comments in the public record so far, Levine said the issue is “clearly of great import to our community.” He urged the council to send the amendments back to the planning commission so members of that board could improve the clarity and enforceability in the code.
Levine also added that the conversation is not just about one particular bed and breakfast, but has been amplifying across the community.
“I would also caution council that this isn’t a conversation that started with one bed and breakfast on George White road. This is a conversation that’s been emerging for a long time,” Levine said. “... Absent any meaningful changes to our current code, it’s a conversation that will only grow in terms of volume, and frequency and severity.”
The Grand County Council could vote on the amendments and discuss the matter further during its regular council meeting Aug. 1.