Moab downtown business owners are worried that Main Street road projects could eliminate precious on-street parking they say is important for their economic health, — and are upset they haven’t been given adequate information or opportunities for input on the issue.
City officials, who have heard an earful of late from concerned and angry business owners, say it’s the Utah Department of Transportation, not the city, that is responsible for the projects and is the place where complaints would be more properly lodged.
The Moab City Council on Tuesday, and for the second time in as many meetings, heard from owners of Main Street businesses on the north end of town, where a highway widening project is set to begin in early 2019.
“Those that have the most to lose should be kept in the loop on major projects,” Tony Lema, owner of Lema’s Kokopelli Gallery, told the council. “I haven’t been asked by any of you about any of these projects ... That’s sad, for a community not to know what’s happening. There has to be more communication.”
Lema was one of six business owners or managers who used the “citizens to be heard” portion of the council meeting to decry plans that would take away business-front parking as well as lack of information and/or discussion about those plans.
At a meeting the week before, on March 13, council members heard from another business owner, Scott Newton of Poison Spider Bicycles.
“I will apologize if I am coming off harsh and upset, but the bottom line is that I am extremely disappointed,” Newton said.
He said no one from the city or UDOT had been in contact with affected businesses about upcoming projects. “I understand that the City of Moab does not own the highway, but you are coordinating with these outside agencies on this project ... Unfortunately for all of the north Main Street businesses, you have chosen to avoid any type of controversy by saying absolutely nothing to us.”
Other business owners said parking is critical to their businesses and provided a real-life, real-time example. “A lot of the businesses who were open in the winter during road construction, their businesses plummeted,” said Pam Shocknmyer of Raindance Gift Shop.
There are four different projects in various stages currently underway that would impact downtown businesses to some degree or other. Two of those are being undertaken by UDOT; two are solely City of Moab initiatives.
All of them involve parking.
North U.S. 191 highway
UDOT plans to widen Main Street/U.S. Route 191 beginning at 400 North to the junction with State Route 128. According to information provided by UDOT, the highway will be reconstructed to provide two lanes of traffic in each direction, a center turn lane, six-foot shoulders, and curb, gutter and sidewalks.
In a FAQ [i,.e., “Frequently Asked Questions”] sheet, UDOT answers the question about whether the project will allow for Main Street parking after its completion. “Not likely,” the document states. The plan for six-foot shoulders “does not allow sufficient room for on-street parking.”
City of Moab Communications Manager Lisa Church on Monday said the city has requested the inclusion of a bike lane. That bike lane has been blamed by some as the reason for losing parking places.
Chuck Nichols, the original owner of the Poison Spider Bicycles building, and current owner of Nichols Expeditions, said to the council on Tuesday a bike lane along a four-lane highway in a busy downtown area “is a recipe for disaster.”
Church, however, said it was her understanding that, “Parking was going away regardless because of the six-foot shoulder.”
In an email Tuesday, Church said there had been an open house on the widening project on Feb. 20, and that Scott Henriksen, UDOT’s public information officer for the project, indicated he had been in contact with business owners prior to that.
“It is my understanding there will be opportunities for public input before their [UDOT’s] final plan,” Church also said.
Information about the project can be found online by going to udot.utah.gov, clicking on “Projects and Studies, and then selecting “U.S. 191: North Moab to Colorado River Bridge.”
Henriksen can be reached at UDOT at 800-948-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UDOT hotspot project
Another UDOT project proposes to help alleviate congestion caused by Moab’s thriving tourism industry.
The department has received “hotspot funding” — $100 million of it — from the Utah State Legislature for road projects related to tourism around the state.
At the meeting Tuesday, City Manager David Everitt said that Moab could consider itself “lucky” if it got even $10 million of that — which, based on a presentation of project options Everitt presented, wouldn’t do much other than give a start to what the city really needs.
In a list of several options, those dealing with parking were most common. They range from building parking structures just east or west of Main Street, or providing parking for tourism/recreational vehicles north or south of town.
Again, a bike lane is considered, and the long-hailed idea of a downtown bypass route is also on the list, though, Everitt said, “It’s on here because it provides some context ... that you can’t really talk about all this other stuff without talking about options for a bypass.”
But even for all of the options on the table, Everitt said, “Don’t take any of this as anything other than conceptual.”
The council did, at the Tuesday meeting this week, approve a resolution supporting efforts to go after the hotspot funding.
In a message sent to hundreds of email addresses after the meeting, Poison Spider owner Newton (husband of Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton) warned other business owners to be cautious.
“If the City of Moab shows downtown businesses the same lack of communication as they have with north Main Street I would be very concerned,” he wrote.
Council Member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd sits on a committee working with the hotspot project. “I will make sure at our next meeting that we ask UDOT to somehow engage the public a little more on this,” she said.
Information for this project to date is most easily found by searching online (as the website address is itself somewhat unwieldy) the terms “Arches hotspot preliminary project ideas.”
Moab parking plan
As for the city’s projects, one is to study the issue of parking and develop a plan accordingly.
The plan will examine “safe and easy ways to park,” Everitt said, as well as where parking ought to exist and where it ought not, and how do parking-policy changes in one part of town affect other areas of town.
“There’s a whole world of people and all they do is think about parking, and we’ll be hiring one of them in the near future,” Everitt said.
Moab downtown plan
Concurrent but separate from the parking study is another plan underway to provide direction for Moab’s downtown and business district.
“It covers a range of topics, not just transportation,” Everitt said. “It covers branding, downtown aesthetics, pedestrian safety,” among others, he said.
And, he added, the downtown plan will “dictate” — or at least inform — how other projects move forward, including any project done with UDOT’s hotspot funds.
“I certainly can’t speak for UDOT, but at the end of the day, if the community doesn’t want it, it’s not going to get built,” Everitt said.
The city is currently conducting a survey for residents to provide input for the downtown plan. The survey is found online at surveymonkey.com/r/downtownmoab, and is open until March 31.
More information about the downtown plan is available at bit.ly/MoabDowntownPlan.
An open house is scheduled for April 4 at 5:15 p.m. in the Moab City Council Chambers.
“Currently, all of these items that are under city oversight are in the mix for discussion,” Church wrote in the email she provided Tuesday. “No changes will be made without a full and complete public process and approval by the Moab City Council. The city wants the community to be fully involved and informed.”