“Accessory living structures” — homes that are not stick-built and do not meet International Residential Code (IRC) standards — are currently being considered by Grand County as permitted uses in residential zones. Some residents have said the change would encourage more opportunities for affordable and seasonal housing, but others have raised concerns that the non-IRC structures are a safety hazard that could add to the proliferation of illegal nightly rentals in residential zones, the very opposite of the ordinance’s intention.
After receiving numerous inquiries — as well as complaints — about accessory living structures in residential zones, Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine decided to bring the issue before the county’s elected leaders.
“We were motivated to bring it to the planning commission and council because it is our job to facilitate public conversations about land use and planning topics that are popular and for which we receive a lot of questions, comments, complaints and requests,” Levine said. “In other words, we get calls about tiny homes and/or people living in RVs every week.”
According to Levine, the proposed ordinance would “generally capture” many different types of “tiny homes” that don’t meet the IRC standard, from recreational vehicles, to park model units, to “egg-looking pods.”
Passed unanimously by the county planning commission on April 12, the ordinance would allow one of these accessory living structures on a single family lot, which must be placed on a cement, asphalt, or gravel pad that includes all utility hookups like water, sewer, and electric.
During a public hearing May 2, resident Lorenzo McGregor, representing Colorado Plateau River Guides (CPRG), told the council that when he first moved to Moab as a river guide, he was prohibited from any other living situation beyond a “van down by the river.”
“You’re in fear of being evicted, or facing issues of law enforcement because of the living situation you’re forced in. It’s a terrible state of affairs. And there are many other service employees, guides tour guides ... living in their cars because of cost prohibitive housing,” McGregor said. “We all know that we are in a cost prohibitive housing market right now. ... I and the CPRG board feel that since the economy is dependent on these types of employees that the community owes to them…to provide realistic housing options.”
Levine acknowledged the many reasons for this ordinance, stating that in addition to expanding the options for affordable and seasonal workforce housing, accessory living structures could address a “pervasive” code violation throughout the county — people illegally living in recreational type vehicles in residential zones.
But Moab City Community Development Director Amy Weiser, addressing the council as a “Grand County resident,” urged them not to “fix a code violation by allowing a violation when it comes to health and safety.”
Grand County Building Inspector Jeff Whitney agreed.
“I truly believe that there are options,” Whitney said, noting that it’s not prohibitive to have a tiny house, “it’s just prohibitive to do one that doesn’t meet the standard.”
Currently the county allows for “accessory dwelling units” which, as stick-built units, meet the international residential code and receive a certificate of occupancy from the building department.
In contrast, accessory living structures would not meet the IRC and could not receive a certificate of occupancy from the building department.
By opening up housing options to non-IRC standards, Whitney voiced a concern that the county is creating a liability when it comes to residents’ health and safety. He told the council that people have suffocated in their RVs during the winter, for example, when using the cooking equipment for heat.
“I really feel that the ordinance violates state law,” he said.
Levine acknowledged the opposing argument too, noting that accessory living structures are not built for permanent occupancy, that the county already allows for accessory dwelling units, and that the county could work to accommodate accessory living structures through “tiny home communities,” not individual pads on existing lots.
“My primary motivation for introducing this amendment was just to facilitate a community conversation about it because we hear about it a lot from multiple perspectives,” Levine said.
Council member Curtis Wells added a concern that accessory living structures in residential zones would further contribute to the already overwhelming amount of illegal nightly rentals in Grand County.
“There’s going to be too many scenarios where it’s going to be another illegal nightly rental creating further harm to quality of life and neighborhoods,” Wells said. “And that’s going to be far worse than people having to deal with a tiny home development.”
Council member Chris Baird formally requested the county attorney review the ordinance, adding that a compromise potentially exists on this issue.
“This particular use is not going to go away, it’s going to happen…And to some degree, if we can come to a safe compromise to facilitate certain seasonal living situations, I think it would be worth pursing,” Baird said.
The county’s proposed accessory living structures ordinance can be found on page 216 of their May 2 agenda packet, available online at grandcountyutah.net.