Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany intimated at a meeting Tuesday that refusing to award the contract could torpedo the entire campus project.
“My concern for this council is that if you balk at this particular planning expenditure or design expenditure, you may jeopardize future commitments on the part of the university, and that they may question the city’s motivation or its overall commitment toward this project.”
McAnany’s comment came as council members questioned the city’s role in providing a 1,900-foot road in the area of the proposed campus, according to agreements among the city, the county, the university and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
Those agreements stipulate that the City of Moab will provide $450,000 cash or in-kind donation toward roads and infrastructure for the campus project. Since 2011, said Moab City Communications Manager Lisa Church on Wednesday, the city has been putting money aside for that purpose.
Grand County and SITLA would also provide their own portions of matching buy-in for a $1.5-million infrastructure-funding package from the Community Impact Board.
But engineering and designing the road is an undertaking of the city alone. That worried some council members who queried if it would all be for nothing if, for some reason, the campus project didn’t happen or otherwise failed.
“Is there a chance … we end up building a bridge to nowhere?” Council Member Mike Duncan asked.
Moab City Engineer Chuck Williams and Special Projects Manager Amy Weiser both said no. The road would also service a master-planned community SITLA has in mind for the area.
However, asked Council Member Kalen Jones, suppose the USU campus doesn’t come off as planned: Would SITLA still follow through with its plan as currently envisioned?
“My concern is that SITLA does have this mandate to maximize profits,” Jones said. “I haven’t seen business planning or academic planning for the new campus, so I’m not sure if it’s going to succeed. So in the absence of that, I’m not sure if SITLA will fall back on its mandate.”
Jones feared SITLA could become a, “profit-generating machine, rather than an asset to the community.” For instance, while SITLA’s plan now includes an affordable-housing component, Jones wondered aloud if it could give way to higher-revenue options for SITLA if affordable housing wasn’t needed for the college campus.
In the event the campus did not happen, the city would have been on the hook for what, under regular circumstances, would have been paid for by developers themselves, not the city.
Both Weiser and McAnany said there was a long history to take into account, however.
Weiser provided a timeline going back nearly 10 years that included several phases of planning, studies and agreements between city, county, university and SITLA. “This is extremely time sensitive,” she said.
“You’ve got this long process that’s been underway for a number of years to kind of develop this campus,” McAnany said. “Past councils have certainly made commitments incrementally.”
The council would be ill advised, he said, to go back on them now.
“On its face, it’s just a contract for planning or engineering design, but it’s the tail end of a lot of other things that preceded that,” he said. “As your counsel, I’d be leading you astray if I didn’t say, ‘Hey, you want to be careful about this,’ regarding what past councils have decided to do.”
The council approved the contract on a 3-1 vote, with Duncan voting against.