Housing plan details vex city council
Key ordinances could be approved Nov. 13
by Doug McMurdo
The Times-Independent
Nov 08, 2018 | 717 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The days of painting broad brushstrokes in their quest to provide affordable housing are over for members of the Moab City Council.

It’s down to the nitty-gritty in advance of a Nov. 13 deadline to potentially approve a proposed Planned Affordable Development ordinance (PAD), a smaller version of Grand County’s proposed High Density Affordable Housing Overlay Zone. Also on the Nov. 13 agenda is an action item to discuss and possibly approve an Assured Workforce Housing Policy.

The city council’s challenge is determining how to serve one segment of the community without performing a disservice to another. On one hand, members are intent on providing affordable housing for the region’s workforce, which has been priced out of the local market, while ensuring that homeowners residing in neighborhoods are not negatively impacted.

While the first task is daunting, the second is virtually impossible, suggested City Manager David Everitt during a special city council meeting Monday evening, Nov. 5.

“You have to find balance, but you can’t pretend it (high-density housing) won’t have an impact,” said Everitt. More cars would be parked on the street, for example, and there would be enforcement challenges, as well, he said.

There was discussion – and disagreement – over how many parking spaces would be required. Current regulations require two onsite spaces per dwelling, but because it is expected local workers would occupy PAD project residences instead of a family with children who don’t drive, it was suggested requiring 1.5 spaces per bedroom.

Placing occupancy limits on homes was discussed in-depth in a separate conversation held at the beginning of the meeting. With housing costs out of reach for many workers, it isn’t uncommon for several roommates to live under one roof. This increases daily traffic in a neighborhood and the owner – often an employer – does not always maintain the property. Residents who don’t rent to employees or tourists are left worrying about property values and a diminished quality of life.

Mayor Emily Niehaus voiced reluctance to impose a limit because doing so could exacerbate the housing crisis, she said. But others said overcrowded homes are a burden on the neighborhood. Federal and state laws don’t help clear up the situation. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s occupancy formula is “two plus one” for a one-bedroom residence, which means up to seven adults could live in a three-bedroom home. The State of Utah mandates every residence in Utah be built to house a minimum of four people, which adds to the confusion. The overarching concern regarding occupancy limitation is doing so without running afoul of federal Fair Housing Act regulations.

Another concern involves building heights. Council Member Mike Duncan said two- and three-story homes oftentimes means neighbors have no privacy in their backyards. Conversely, builders might not have a choice but to go higher if several onsite parking spaces are required. And if several parking spaces are required, how does the project meet the city’s regulation requiring at least 70 percent of a residential lot must be landscaped?

The city’s Assured Workforce Housing Policy is less comprehensive and not nearly as complex as is the PAD, but included in the policy are affordability controls that would protect tenants.

And one way to protect the city and the character of neighborhoods – and put some teeth in its ability to enforce its housing rules – is a suggestion to require landlords to obtain a city business license.

It is these questions and others the Moab City Council will have to answer Nov. 13 when it meets to discuss and take potential action on its proposed Planned Affordable Housing and Assured Workforce Housing Policy ordinances.

City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart on Tuesday voiced optimism both ordinances would pass, but if they don’t, he said it’s likely the council would agree to at least pass the workforce housing policy.

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