After nearly two years of hard work, complex planning and an abundance of public input, the Grand County Planning Commission voted 6-1 on Tuesday to recommend the Grand County Council approve a high-density housing overlay to help address the Moab area’s lack of available housing for working people.
The vote came after nearly three hours of discussion during a public hearing. Planning Commissioner Kevin Walker said he voted against the recommendation due to the “polygon” shape of many of the parcels identified in the overlay, which encompasses lots of varying sizes fronting Highway 191 and Spanish Valley Drive. He made it clear he supports the overlay.
The idea is to “bring a balanced approach to accommodating growth and how to bring in additional housing,” said Zacharia Levine, community and economic development director for Grand County.
There was a sense of urgency voiced by a handful of residents who see Moab’s housing shortage for working people as a crisis, but others offered cautionary comments regarding the need to protect water, the character of existing neighborhoods, and the potential that the proposed zoning overlay at build-out could add as many as 78,000 new residents to the area.
Levine said a significant amount of information on what the “critical factors” are went into the decision-making process. First and foremost, he said, was the desire to allow higher density neighborhoods close to where people work in order to reduce travel times and traffic impacts. That led to a focus on two roads with access to major north-south corridors: Highway 191 and Spanish Valley Drive.
Secondary factors include potential impacts to views, sensitive slopes, and existing neighborhood character. Levine cited these as “high-level considerations.”
The work and public outreach paid dividends, as the comments residents made at Tuesday’s public hearing were thoughtful and informed.
Judy Carmichael said she was “absolutely in favor” of the zoning overlay, particularly along Spanish Valley Drive. Carmichael said local government needs to do what it can to reduce the cost of land “so working people can afford” to live in the area. She said low- and moderate-income earners will move into San Juan County, but would still use Grand County roads and other infrastructure while San Juan would enjoy the tax benefits.
Michael Liss handed out a four-page document titled “Spanish Valley Seven Neighborhood Plan” that was initially presented to planners in July. The idea is to make Spanish Valley Drive the overlay’s “Main Street” by creating “walkable neighborhoods” one mile apart on Spanish Valley Drive, built around a cluster of commercial zoning, he said.
Liss was critical of building housing on the highway, calling it unhealthy. He also said the overlay includes nearly 1,550 acres along Highway 191 that is six miles long and three quarters of a mile wide. He said the overlay at build-out would provide housing to about 78,000 people, making the district the ninth most populous community in Utah. Moab is currently ranked 93 with about 5,250 residents.
Tyson Day said people saw the housing problem coming two decades ago. He said there was a limited supply of land available and the overlay was “absolutely necessary.” Realtor Lynda Diem spoke in favor of the overlay, noting the high housing costs of priced-out working people. She said the need for community housing is tremendous, citing an attorney who recently moved with his family to Moab and can’t find an affordable home despite earning a good income.
Terry Morse, an unopposed candidate for county council, cautioned that water would become a worsening issue in the near future. Planning Commission Chairman Gerrish Willis said the plan is to get the best land use for employees of Grand County. He cautioned that the goal was not for affordable housing, which usually comes with some type of government subsidy.
The hearing closed with a series of split votes on motions moving forward. A request to reduce the density of seven parcels on Spanish Valley Drive from 15 to five units failed 4-3. A suggestion to implement the overlay in phases also failed 4-3.
The matter now goes to the Grand County Council for further discussion and possible ratification.