Moratorium workshop: More outreach needed before new codes can be written

The need to get on the same page prompted a joint workshop of the Grand County Council and Planning Commission Tuesday with representatives from Landmark Design participating telephonically. Both the city and county have instituted identical moratoria on overnight lodging and both have retained the services of Landmark Design, a consulting firm tasked with writing ordinances for future land use in Moab and Grand County – with the new regulations either enacted or rejected by an early August deadline.

Several points became clear during the non-action workshop, which Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine facilitated.

One: Neither local officials nor Landmark representatives believe the public outreach phase is close to being completed despite two recent public meetings that were attended by a combined 150 or so people. Additional meetings will be scheduled and could target high school age youth who are typically left out of policy discussions, said Levine, as well as the business community and other demographics. He said he would work with the Moab Valley Multicultural Center to get out the word.

Two: More than one workshop participant noted that one opinion outweighed all others when Landmark Design held its late March meetings: Residents believe there are more than enough hotels, motels and other modes of temporary lodging and would like the moratoria become a prohibition.

Levine said banning them is an option, but so is doing nothing and letting development continue unabated. The goal he said, was to visualize what those regulatory boundaries look like and to do that, a broader representation of the community needs to be engaged.

Mark Vlasic, president of Landmark Design, said the firm would meet with residents again in early May and again a couple of weeks later.

Levine said the desire to meet with as diverse a population as possible was due in part to the moratorium deadline. He said it would be frustrating to “get to July and have a fairly reworked ordinance only to have people say, ‘we didn’t know…”

Three: For those who attended those meetings, noted Landmark, quality of life issues were far and away the dominant concern. People lamented that growth has made it difficult to recognize Moab, that the character of the town has changed. Traffic congestion, “greedy corporations,” the lack of affordable housing and growth were other issues.

Levine said the approach needs to be from the ground up rather than the top down. “Their voices need to be in the ordinance,” he said.

“It was kind of a bitch session,” said Gerrish Willis, chair of the planning commission. “I’m not seeing anything that hasn’t been discussed already.”

“It shouldn’t surprise anyone,” said Levine. The public sentiment has been, “no growth, slow growth when it comes to overnight accommodations.”

Planning Commissioner Kevin Walker seemed to garner support when he suggested lodging developments be limited from downtown north to Arches National Park and commercial development that targets the community’s needs zoned south of downtown on the highway and “closer to where people live.”

County Council Chair Evan Clapper suggested banning new overnight lodging could backfire given Moab’s “mono” economy. “I thought the process was in slowing, not stopping growth,” he said.

While Landmark Design will draft the ordinances, there is no guarantee either council will approve the new regulations without significant backing from the community. That makes the need to reach as many people as possible the priority.

Planning Commissioner Cricket Green said several people who live outside of the city told her they didn’t attend the late March meetings with Landmark because they were held at City Hall. She suggested the meetings in May be held at the Grand Center, a comment that others in the room supported.