City scales back scope of PAD housing plan

Changes may limit housing development options

The Moab City Council decided during a meeting last week to drastically limit the scope of its Planned Affordable Housing ordinance, also known as PAD. If the changes are approved, most residential areas in the city would be excluded from the plan, continuing to disallow developers from constructing higher density housing in those areas.

Council members during a March 6 meeting cited concerns from constituents living in R2, a large zone designated for residential housing, as the primary rationale for the change. According to City Council Member Mike Duncan, there were many citizens living in the zone who had expressed fear that passing the plan would threaten the character of their neighborhoods.

“Most R2 residents told me/us they don’t like the prospect of dense housing in their relatively spacious zones,” Duncan told The Times-Independent in an email. “[…] it wouldn’t be terribly dense unless apartments were in the mix, but they don’t want apartments either. It’s the fear of what might be built, given PAD’s free-form rules, that scares people.”

On top of this, some of the land in R2 is undeveloped, and according to City Manager David Everitt, some residents feared that passing the PAD would open these undeveloped parcels to becoming large swaths of apartment complexes.

Council members decided to modify the PAD to exclude the R2 zone from loosened density restrictions in response to these concerns.

The decision to exclude R2 from the plan could mean the plan’s desired effects will be greatly limited, as the R2 zone makes up more than half of the residential land in Moab. Excluding all of this land from the plan could spur less growth in affordable housing than previously hoped.

However, Duncan questions just how well the plan would have been able to incentivize such development in the first place. He said he was “dubious PAD will make much of an impact anywhere in the city,” given that the city would not provide subsidies to developers who build affordable housing under the plan.

How the plan works

Rather than directing tax or grant money toward private housing developments, PAD loosens restrictions for developers who create high-density housing. The mechanism resembles that of the High Density Housing overlay passed in January by the Grand County Council.

However, unlike the county plan, the PAD would require that developers who exceed current density restrictions also charge a lower rate of rent or sale for some of the units in the new building.

Designating units for low rates would mean more affordable housing, but it would also mean less revenue for developers and therefore less economic incentive to build.

What’s next

If the city council approves its amended plan, most neighborhoods in Moab would be unaffected by the new density rules and would not see increases in housing densities. Only a handful of residential areas would possibly see increased densities.

For the most part, council members said they were eager to see more affordable housing development in Moab, but some wished to start with smaller changes. “If we want to get something done, let’s start with R3 and R4,” said Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton.

Duncan said that he believes there are still a number of “consequential” details to work out before the PAD is passed, and working out the wrinkles will be difficult.

“Unfortunately, the city’s planning department is heavily in flux right now; we’re missing their guidance,” Duncan said.

PAD will likely return to the city council’s agenda during its meeting on March 26, when it will continue discussion regarding changes to the plan.