The Moab City Council tried to get its priorities straight last week.
With a new mayor and two new city council members infusing a new energy and perhaps a new paradigm into city government, mayor and council met together and with city staff to prioritize the city’s work and initiatives.
“It’s all important all the time, yes of course,” said Moab City Manager David Everitt at the outset of a “council retreat” on Saturday, Jan 20. “But there’s only so many hours in the day, and so many dollars,” so knowing how to allocate that time and money, per direction of the council, is important, and a major reason for the meeting.
Management consultant Kathleen Kelly, of K Squared Consulting in Moab, facilitated a roundtable discussion during which elected and appointed officials discussed a host of issues identified on a questionnaire provided by Kelly.
Housing, community vision, water, communication and interaction internally among city officials and with the public, sustainability, and tourism-related and other issues each received focus during the nearly eight-hour meeting, which included a working lunch.
At the end of discussion, council members placed colored stickers on a large list of all the topics to denote their individual first- and second-choice priorities, as well as their non-priorities. Thus, a collective priority list emerged.
It may come as little surprise that housing took top priority.
Close runners-up were priorities to initiate a community-based, long-term visioning project, and creating better working relations with other entities, such as the county, school district and hospital, and with the Utah Legislature in efforts to tweak the transient room tax law.
Giving greater attention to the city’s planning department, protecting water resources, considering caps or other regulations on special events, participation in sustainability initiatives and programs, and continuing to address ATV and UTV noise issues were also in the upper range of priority.
Though council members were given stickers of a particular matter to identify “waste-of-time” issues, none of those stickers were used.
Mayor Niehaus, though she is founder of affordable housing provider Community Rebuilds, said housing was “not a pet project.”
“Housing is a top priority in our community. It’s the loudest, highest priority we hear,” she said.
Council Member Rani Derasary agreed, as did the council collectively (though individual members may have had different number-one priorities).
The city plans to continue to pursue the idea of an Assured Housing Policy, which would basically require developers of large-scale commercial properties (i.e., that would have above a certain number of employees) to also build affordable homes somewhere in the city.
Councilmember Kalen Jones noted that it would be a “complicated subject;” Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton was cautious about the threshold number of employees that would trigger the policy. City Manager Everitt expressed concern that the city not adopt policies that “basically incentivizes everybody to do all of their development in San Juan County.”
A study is currently underway on the topic.
Also considered is a planned area development (PAD) policy. A PAD is similar to a planned unit development, or PUD, but allows for certain kinds of restrictions and regulations to ensure the housing remains affordable.
What kind of community does Moab want to be?
Answering that question, and how to answer it, seemed important in the discussion. There also seemed to be agreement that it would take money and probably a planning or consulting firm to do it.
“I feel like it’s worth the investment up front to make sure the other things we work on are better informed,” Derasary said.
Niehaus, as she has frequently since taking office not quite a month ago, expressed a paradigm shift in community vision that she believes she was elected on.
“The vision that we’ve been working on for the last 20-plus years is, ‘Make Moab a tourist destination so we can have money so we can have a healthy community,’” she said. “That’s not our focus anymore. I mean, we’ve done that ... vision solved … It’s a time in our community when we’re trying to be more introspective.”
Making that introspection explicit would be the goal of any visioning exercise, and making sure city government neither underplays nor overplays its role would be paramount, Moab’s city officials seemed to agree.
Jones suggested the city’s role be to fund the project, “but it would very much be a community process.” Knuteson-Boyd agreed. “I think council needs to step back,” she said. “I think if it’s going to be a community vision … we need to step back and listen to what the community says to us.”
While council members did not agree on every topic discussed throughout the day, with sometimes impassioned but generally respectful debate taking place, by the time all topics had been discussed, council members saw a picture emerge.
“Given where we were, when he had the first retreat two years ago, we are light years ahead,” Knuteson-Boyd said.
“We’re tweaking greatness,” Niehaus remarked. “This debate and conversation is all growth and opportunity.”