County seeks legal options for affordable housing agreement on Spanish Valley property

The Grand County Council has asked planning staff, legal counsel, and potential developers to create a development agreement for a 20-acre parcel in Spanish Valley owned by Judy and Gary Carmichael. The council postponed a vote rezoning the parcel from large lot residential to small lot residential until the parties can reach an agreement.

Council members said the move is intended to ensure that such a development agreement, which would require that affordable housing be built on the property, is actually feasible under law.

“The thing that I’d like to emphasize is that we’re not making a decision at this point,” county council member Chris Baird said Feb. 21. “I’ve made a motion just to investigate the possibilities further … and to work in good faith with these folks to see if we can work something out. If not, if our attorney says ‘no, it’s just too risky’ or ‘we need to implement all these other steps in between,’ then so be it.”

This is the second time the county council has been asked to rezone the parcel, but the first time developers have been willing to sign an agreement restricting the development to affordable housing, Baird said.

Developers Danielle and Dave Pope of Salt Lake City said their plan for an affordable development is a way to “give back” to Moab.

“Moab has done nothing but give to us,” Danielle Pope said Feb. 7. “We literally want to be able to give back.”

According to documents provided to the council, the Popes plan to build a 160-unit manufactured home community on the property, where residents could purchase a house and land starting at $170,000, a home with a land lease starting at $70,000, or rent starting at $900 per month.

But how to guarantee affordability by way of a rezone has been the central issue since the property first came before the planning commission and county council last year.

Robert McConnell, a lawyer with Parr, Brown, Gee, and Loveless, provided legal counsel to the county on Feb. 21. McConnell said there are steps the council could implement — including amending their general plan — that would push a development agreement away from illegal contract zoning to legal conditional zoning.

“Is it possible to do it legally? The answer is yes, depending on the circumstances and the factors,” McConnell said.

The general plan and future land use plan currently do not support the rezone, a factor the planning commission considered when it denied the Pope’s rezone application in January. Other community members voiced that concern as well in letters and in a recent public hearing, arguing that any alternation to the general plan should involve the opinions of the entire community.

But Baird argued that other elements of the 2012 general plan actually do support the proposed development.

“If we said we’re not going to work with a private entity who’s willing to move forward developing affordable housing, then in my opinion we’re violating the affordable housing component of the general plan,” Baird said. “We’ve already discussed several times that our future land use plan is outdated, inadequate, and I think the more poignant element of our general plan is the affordable housing component.”

Baird then spoke to the parcel’s location, noting that it is surrounded by an RV Park, the Rim Village condominium subdivision, light industry, and the Old Spanish Trail Arena.

He said the county has spent nearly $3 million towards the Old Spanish Trail Arena to provide amenities for these types of developments; describing future plans for playgrounds and exercise circuits.

“All the things we’ve moved forward on with the Old Spanish Trail Arena were designed very specifically to accommodate exactly these kinds of developments for working class Grand County families,” Baird said.

Agreeing with Baird, council member Curtis Wells said he doesn’t “want to be hung up on process,” and encouraged the council to use creative approaches to affordable housing.

“If we’re looking at affordable housing developments, we need to have a multi-pronged approach and it doesn’t have to be conventional,” Wells said.

Although he noted the merits of the location and called increased density a “good idea,” council member Evan Clapper cautioned about “shooting from the hip” when it comes to complicated legal issues.

“There may be some … intermediate steps [we could take] that don’t take a year to get in place … I don’t want to set the standard that we’re going to shoot from the hip every time one of these things comes up,” Clapper said, adding that he wants more information about the process.

Baird re-emphasized that he just wants to work with the developers, and said that by charging staff with drafting a development agreement, the county is simply making room for negotiation.

“Right now I’m just trying to leave the door open so we can try to work something out, because I think it’s going to require a pretty strong will on our behalf to facilitate some of these kinds of projects,” Baird added.

The council voted 6-0 to postpone action on the rezone, and direct staff to work with developers and attorneys on a development agreement. Council member Rory Paxman was absent.

ByBy Molly Marcello

The Times-Independent