City postpones review of Lionsback Resort agreement

A controversial development proposed for Sand Flats Road is back in the public spotlight. On Dec. 20, the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) asked the Moab City Council to approve a zoning status agreement for the planned Lionsback Resort.

If the council does not approve changes to the project proposed by developer LB Moab Land Co. LLC as a “minor revision,” which would bypass the city’s public review process, SITLA officials said the project will move forward anyway, without city input. Under Utah law, developments on state-owned property are not subject to local zoning laws, so the Lionsback project could potentially move forward without the city council’s approval.

The city council voted unanimously on Dec. 20 to postpone discussion of the agreement until January.

The proposed development, which would be located on SITLA land, initially came before the Moab City Planning Commission in 2007. The development process included several intense and sometimes contentious public hearings during which many area residents opposed the project, which included 188 single-family homes, 18 units for employee housing, and 50 lodge/commercial units to be located at the site of the former Lionsback Campground.

The city council approved the proposal in October 2008 and agreed to annex the area into the city. However, a lawsuit brought by environmental groups concerned about the project’s potential impact on a sole-source aquifer located on the property stalled progress of the development until 2012.

SITLA Associate Director John Andrews said after the Utah Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in the lawsuit, letting stand a lower court’s ruling in favor of the developers and Moab city, the project developer spoke with members of city staff about making some changes to the project. Those changes included converting the 50 lodge/commercial units into a 50-unit hotel, and relocating the parking area from in front of the units to behind the hotel.

“The tweaks to the development were approved by staff,” Andrews said, adding that the developer then spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on planning and design “based on the representation that the project was moving forward.”

Andrews said during those conversations city staff, the developer was told the changes could be treated as a minor plan revision, meaning the process would be handled internally.

However, in the spring of 2016, city officials determined the changes should be considered a major plan revision, which would trigger a new review process, including additional public hearings, he said.

“A major amendment requires public hearings, requires public scrutiny, requires a lot of time, and also opens it back up for potential legal challenges,” SITLA Project Manager Troy Herold said. “That’s a concern for us and our developer on this project. Our developer is ready to go right now. And they have investors ready to go … This project is ready to move into the final stages right now.”

Andrews pointed out that the land-use entitlements approved by the city council are effective for 15 years. “This is a fully entitled project,” he said. “It has been for a number of years.”

ByBy Laura Haley

The Times-Independent