Residents concerned about neighborhood impacts

The Grand County Planning Commission July 10 held the first of two open houses to collect public feedback on their plan to implement a high-density housing overlay policy. Residents were able to ask questions and express their concerns about the policy. The planning commission will analyze and try to incorporate feedback into the plan before it is put up for a vote at a public hearing before the Grand County Council, likely in August or September.

Most everyone in attendance agreed that Moab needs solutions to alleviate the lack of affordable housing in the community; however, many residents were worried the policy could cause the Moab Valley to lose its rural nature that appealed to them in the first place. The HDH overlay is a voluntary, incentive-based approach meant to encourage developers to create more housing for primary residents. The policy would allow developers to submit applications to build higher density housing than allowed by current zoning laws, but only if they deed-restrict a majority of the new units for primary resident occupancy. The latest draft of the proposal requires at least 80 percent of the units be deed restricted, meaning twenty percent could be used as second homes or overnight rentals if the underlying zoning allows it. For the HDH overlay to be applied, it would have to be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Grand County Council in a public hearing.

The HDH overlay is split into five categories. The densest areas would allow 25 units per acre with a maximum building height of 45 feet. The other four types cap building height at 35 feet and reduce unit density by increments of five. The category that different parcels were placed in was determined by a variety of factors, including closeness to town, proximity to the transportation corridors of Highway 191 and Spanish Valley Drive, elevation change and infrastructure level. County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine said, “We acknowledge that we are experiencing growth and that if we want to get a handle on the housing market then we need accommodate more residential growth. We want to ensure it happens in strategic areas.”

Aside from concerns over how a three- or four-story apartment building would alter their neighborhood, residents expressed worries about how the plan will impact the overall community. Residents worried about the added stress on already strained water and infrastructure systems. “We can’t approve a development if there’s no water, if the roadway can’t accommodate the traffic that would be generated by the new development, or if the water and sewer infrastructure isn’t there. All that has to be installed by the owner-developer, the county doesn’t do it,” said Levine. He clarified, “the baseline expectation is that new development must put in the infrastructure that’s needed to serve their development above and beyond what exists today.”

Levine described how the HDH overlay is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to improving Moab’s housing situation. “We are very committed to presenting packages of proposals… this is one of the tools in the toolbox,” said Levine. He went on to explain how the HDH overlay would work in conjunction with the assured housing policy that is now being considered, which would collect fees from the hospitality industry to offset the employment needs they create. Levine also noted the county has streamlined its development review process. He listed other initiatives under consideration like allowing on-site employee housing and tiny homes, promoting economic diversification and “constantly going after state and federal housing dollars.”

The HDH overlay has been in the works for nearly two years. In response to feedback received at a series of open houses last summer, the plan was altered. According to Bob O’Brien, vice chair of the Grand County Planning Commission, the most noticeable change was lowering unit densities across the board. The planning commission has worked to reach a balance between densities that will be low enough to be palatable for residents while also high enough to be a compelling incentive for developers. Another significant change was switching requirements for affordable housing to a deed restriction for primary residents. “A year ago it actually included specific amounts of affordable housing… I believe it’s because it didn’t seem like it would work. It would be too constraining on developers,” said O’Brien. He pointed out that the county has had a policy of allowing higher density developments of affordable housing in certain areas for about five years, but “no one has done it.” O’Brien also noted how the specifics of unit density and building height have been tweaked in some zones. “We’ll continue to listen to people,” he said.

Planning Commission Member Emily Campbell described the need for action on housing: “We’ve seen the cost of housing increase by about $100,000 over the last three years and over that same period we’ve seen basically no real growth in wages.” Campbell said they’ve received a wide range of feedback so far. “At the high level there is a universal understanding that something needs to happen… Some specific neighborhoods have seen a lot of community participation and people have felt concerned legitimately about what this might mean for their neighborhood and their quality of life. We’ve been hearing that and listening to that,” Campbell said. She explained how feedback has mostly focused on a few concerns, particularly, “there is a general concern about the disappearing rural nature of our community and how we address that.”

The planning commission will continue to compile feedback on the draft proposal. More information can be found at such as a map of the HDH overlay and feedback forms. Comments can also be sent to [email protected] A second open house will be held on July 31 at 5 p.m. in the Grand County Council Chambers.

ByBy Nathaniel Smith

The Times-Independent