Overnight lodging ‘use by right’ in crosshairs

This map (full version here) illustrates zones where overlay zones will replace use by right for overnight lodging. This means potential developers will have to get approval from Moab’s City Council if they want to build in area north of downtown, highlighted in red on this map. Whether new overnight lodging will be allowed in the downtown zone, highlighted in purple on this map, is still an open question.
Graphic courtesy of Landmark Design

City and county officials instructed planning consultant Landmark Design on Tuesday, May 7 to write draft land use ordinances during the following week that would eliminate overnight lodging as a use by right in the Moab Valley.

The plan would give the Moab City Council full discretion on a case-by-case basis on whether new overnight lodging developments would be permitted.

This contrasts with the previous state of affairs in which developers were only required to meet technical standards to be allowed to develop, with the city council lawfully obligated to allow such developments.

If the city moves forward with eliminating use by right for overnight lodging and establishing overlay zones, it will have leeway with each new development application that is submitted to make considerations beyond the technical level in allowing or not allowing development, limited only by political considerations.

Vested projects

Council members were also presented with a list of existing vested overnight lodging developments, places where overnight lodging is already permitted to be built in the future regardless of the ordinances approved before the end of the moratorium.

According to tallies by the Moab Travel Council, Grand County Planning Commission and Moab City Planning Commission, the total number of available short-term rental units in the valley could increase by roughly 15%. This assumes all vested, under-construction and approved developments would be completed and does not account for RV spaces.

County Council Member Mary McGann said viewing the list of vested developments was striking for her. “After seeing the amount of already vested properties, I’m like, ‘whoa,'” McGann said. “We’re going to have a whole lot of new overnight accommodations already.”

Development standards

County and city officials also instructed Landmark to determine two sets of standards that could be applied to new lodging developments that are built in town. The standards may include water and energy usage limits, multiple use requirements (such as requiring certain commercial businesses to be integrated with lodging developments) and others.

The set of standards would apply to developments north of downtown and the other to developments inside the downtown Main Street corridor, extending from roughly 400 North down to Pack Creek.

Moab City Council members generally expressed interest with creating an overlay zone north of downtown, with mixed reception for the Main Street corridor overlay. A notable exception was Karen Guzman-Newton, who advocated for elimination of use by right without the establishment of an overlay.

The first draft of standards is not likely to include form-based restrictions, which would have dictated the appearance and shape of new developments. Landmark says it does not have the time required to develop such standards, as it has promised a first draft of the ordinances by Tuesday, May 14 so the county and city will make their final deadline of Aug. 4.

Officials from the Grand County Council and its planning commission said they would determine at a later date how to handle lodging regulations in Thompson Springs and Cisco, expressing interest in perhaps allowing overnight developments in those areas, even as a use by right. A final decision on this was not reached at Tuesday’s meeting.

Existing developments

One open question after Tuesday’s meeting was how to handle existing and vested developments. The essential question, according to Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine and Moab’s Assistant City Manager Joel Linares, is whether existing overnight rentals will be allowed to be redeveloped as overnight rentals in the future.

One option is for properties that currently operate as overnight rentals to become “legal nonconforming uses. This would mean that the operations would be allowed to continue, but if the property owner sought to redevelop the land, it would not automatically qualify to be an overnight rental.

The other option is for the city to follow the county’s example by attaching the overlay zone to existing properties. This would give property owners where overnight rentals already exist an ability to build a new overnight rental, as long as it conforms to the standards Landmark is currently developing.