Utah’s House Bill 253 has a lot of opponents. The law, passed last year by the Utah Legislature, allows nightly rentals to be advertised on sites like Airbnb.com — effectively removing the only tool municipalities had to enforce their restrictions on nightly rentals.
Supporters of local control wrote a joint resolution that they hoped the Town of Castle Valley, the City of Moab and Grand County would all sign onto. However, on Tuesday Feb. 20 the Grand County Council failed to pass the resolution. Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells said that prompting the legislature to revisit the issue could backfire, possibly resulting in laws that further remove local control over nightly rentals.
“I don’t understand why we can’t have local land use ordinances that control our communities. I hear about Utah wanting local control. I see it as nothing but Salt Lake control right now and I’m not a buyer,” said former Castle Valley mayor Dave Erley, defending the joint resolution.
Moab City Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton also spoke in favor of the resolution.
“Senator Hinkins asked for a joint resolution to be given to the state in regards to short-term rentals,” Guzman-Newton said. “We have a special circumstance in Moab. As you know, overnight rentals are a huge moneymaker for us but if we don’t keep local control we are going to shoot ourselves in the foot. I really would like for you guys to approve the resolution that the city approved and Castle Valley approved because we need to keep ahead of this. We’re not done. The legislation is going to come back up again. We ask for a repeal, to say that we do not support H.B. 253 and like Dave said, what is the point of being able to advertise an overnight rental if you supposedly can’t run an overnight rental.”
Four Grand County residents also spoke in favor of the resolution.
“I whole-heartedly encourage you to support this resolution. It’s just common sense,” said Denise Oblak. “If somebody is doing something that they shouldn’t be doing, there shouldn’t be a technicality on how we can call them on that.”
Wells called the resolution “substantive and well written,” and said that he agreed with opposition to H.B. 253 but was not in support of the resolution, which calls for a repeal of H.B. 253 and does not differentiate between legal and illegal rentals.
“It is a bit after that fact … I don’t like to beat up on that part of the economy,” Wells said. He added that the repercussions of passing such a resolution could be complex.
Erley said that the law “couldn’t be worse” and that any re-visitation of the issue by the legislature would likely require that rental units also be the owners’ primary residences — which he said would be an improvement on the current law.
“This is for our representatives,” said Grand County Council Member Mary McGann. “This gives [our representatives] a tool.”
McGann said that the resolution would not be sent to the legislature, but rather would stand as a statement of the local position for state representatives.
Council members Greg Halliday, McGann and Evan Clapper voted in favor of the resolution. Rory Paxman and Wells voted in opposition, with Jaylyn Hawks recusing herself from the vote. Patrick Trim was not present. Any ordinance or resolution needs four of the seven council members to vote in favor in order for it to pass. With only three votes in favor, the resolution failed to pass.
Wells said that he would reconsider the resolution with some changes. “We’re agreed that we need to get something on the books,” he said.
In other Grand County Council business
• The council postponed a memorandum of understanding that would have approved funding for the Moab Valley Fire Protection District, to Chief Phil Mosher’s chagrin. Council Member Curtis Wells asked that the county attorney weigh in on the memorandum before the council passed it.
• The county extended by 30 days the state of emergency that was declared in January due to the drought.
• Marc Stilson of the Utah Division of Water Rights explained the coming adjudication of water rights in the Moab Valley.
• The council asked that the county planning commission reconsider a rezone of 112 acres north of Moab from range grazing to resort special zoning. “The north corridor is our last beauty,” said neighbor Sue Sternberg. Owner Diana Mack said that any development would be done, “in the best way possible … matching the environment,” and said that the property was the last legacy her husband left for her children.