Grand County and Moab residents and officials wrestled this week with the economic reality that the business of overnight lodging in Moab provides one of the best returns-on-investment in the area.
Teresa Pinkal, an economic consultant working with urban planning contractor Landmark Design, told a room full of residents and local government officials who attended a workshop on Tuesday, April 30, that developers keep building overnight lodging because the demand for hotels and other vacation housing in Moab increases every year.
“The market is doing what it was built to do, and now as a community, you have an opportunity to address that,” Pinkal said.
Mark Vlasic, president of Landmark Design, presented ideas on how to address what many locals see as uncontrolled growth of overnight lodging. Attendees then split into six groups of roughly 12 people each to discuss the proposals, converging at the end to summarize the discussions.
While many residents favored moderate to heavy controls on overnight accommodation developments, some favored a less restrictive approach, and others favored complete elimination of new overnight lodging.
Regardless of the lack of consensus, Landmark plans to present Grand County and the City of Moab with draft ordinances by June 4 so the county commission and city council can make respective final decisions by the first week of August.
The five options
Vlasic outlined five options during a presentation before the group discussions.
Option 1 was the “status quo” option, with no additional overnight accommodation regulations, included merely for illustrative purposes. Option 5 was the “no growth” option, which would eliminate all possibility of new overnight accommodation developments. Options 2 through 4 were gradations on this scale, with 2 being less restrictive and 4 being more restrictive.
Landmark presented ideas of how each option would look on a zoning map. Option 2 would allow overnight accommodations all along the Highway 191 corridor; option 3 would eliminate new overnight developments in the downtown Moab area; option 4 would allow overnight accommodations to be built only between 400 North and the Colorado River.
Many residents at the workshop expressed favor for options 3 and 4, and most were in favor of eliminating “use by right” for overnight accommodations, which is a system that allows overnight accommodation developments in certain areas, but without any special review process.
Replacing use by right, also known as “permitted use,” with overlay zone approval would mean that the Moab City Council and Grand County Council would have the leeway to exercise more legislative discretion when faced with an application to build a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast, campground or other such developments.
This contrasts with the existing system in which overnight accommodations are permitted “by right” in certain zones, meaning the county and city can only vet applications for their adherence to technical regulations like height and density limits. As long as the developments conform to these regulations, they are permitted by right to be built.
A few residents at the workshop were adamant that option 5 was their preferred option. Option 5 was titled “No Growth,” although some took issue with the naming. The plan would altogether disallow new hotels, motels, campgrounds, RV parks, condos and related overnight lodging developments.
Some residents who supported option 5 acknowledged that legal challenges to such a plan would be almost inevitable according to Landmark and other planning officials and that the potential economic impacts to the area were unclear.
Option 1, the “status quo,” gained no traction, as expected. Some favored option 2, which would eliminate use by right for overnight accommodations and replace it with overlay zoning, matching the scale and character of existing lodging developments.
Moab feeling the heat
The timeline is protracted for discussing and implementing Landmark’s yet-to-be-written proposal for controlling overnight accommodation developments in Moab. Utah law limits municipalities from implementing development moratoria longer than six months, so the city and county have until Aug. 4 to finalize a solution.
Landmark’s Vlasic said that, due to this necessarily short timeline, the final day for public comments before Landmark releases a first draft of ordinances is Tuesday, May 7. Public comment will be accepted after this date, but to be considered during the first and perhaps most decisive iteration of policy and ordinance drafting, May 7 is the deadline.
The first draft is scheduled for delivery on May 21, and the second draft for May 28. Revised ordinances will be delivered to the Grand County Council and Moab City Council June 4, and from there, they must be further revised and adopted before August.
The approximately two-month space between Landmark’s presentation of a final proposal and the August deadline is due to various requirements on the county and city councils. Each must have their respective planning commissions establish ordinance proposals before officials can make a final determination.
Additionally, the city and county are lawfully required to provide public hearings on proposed land use legislation and advance notice of these hearings. The nature of the commission’s scheduling (twice monthly for both government entities) also adds time to the process.
The Times-Independent has archived documents from Tuesday’s presentation. Copies are also available at moabarealanduse.com. Here are links to the documents:
- The presentation given by Landmark Design and Teresa Pinkal at the beginning of Tuesday’s workshop
- A draft of the guiding principles for the project, as determined by Landmark from previous comments from residents
- A draft overview of the five options presented by Landmark
- Draft maps of the overlay zones for each of the five options
- Draft information about potential regulations that can be used to achieve the goal of controlling new overnight lodging development