Public finding consensus over stopping overnight lodging approvals

Landmark Design’s fifth option, presented alongside four other high-level options at a public hearing April 30, is well-known as the option for not allowing any more overnight accommodations.

If the majority of local residents – including at least three members of the Grand County Council – were guests on a game show called “Let’s Make a Deal on Overnight Accommodations,” they would without a doubt choose what’s behind door number five: the wholesale prohibition of any new such developments anywhere in the county.

That is the message that was sent, once again, at Tuesday’s Grand County Council meeting during a discussion on policy goals related to the moratoria on new land use applications or permits for overnight accommodations in areas outside of Moab city limits. The City of Moab has an identical moratorium in place and Moab denizens’ concerns over the perceived glut of lodging mirror those of their neighbors in the county. The moratoria expire Aug. 4.

Council Member Curtis Wells placed the item on the agenda out of concern for the process. He said he wanted to avoid what happened to the long-worked-on High-Density Housing Overlay ordinance the council surprisingly voted down before ultimately approving.

He polled members – Vice Chair Terry Morse and member Rory Paxman were not in attendance – to get an idea of where everyone was leaning as the deadline to enact laws approaches, but first, residents in the audience were asked to offer input. They left little doubt how they feel about things.

“Everybody realizes something crazy is going on,” said Dan Kent. “Industrial tourism is being driven by corporate interests from outside of town.”

“You’ve heard the citizenry,” said Kiley Miller. “No more overnight lodging. What we’ve become is shameful … my head is spinning with the s*&#storm this valley has become.”

“Enough is enough is enough,” said Liz Thomas, who came armed with the signatures of 650 residents that she said were collected in less than four days. “We already have more than enough hotels, condos and nightly rentals in our community,” she said in a prepared statement. She said in the next year or two “we will see a 30-35 percent increase in hotel/condo/campground units over the currently already-too-high numbers” based on projects already proposed before the moratoria went into effect. A similar study indicates the percentage could be as high as 38 percent.

Council Member Mary McGann said she was vacillating between option 4 and 5; option 4 calls for “severely” limiting overnight accommodations in order to accommodate new growth outside of the tourism economy.

She said once she saw the large number of projects waiting for the moratoria to expire, she expressed worries about water, overbuilding in the event of a downturn, and the fear that Moab would one day resemble Green River with its numerous boarded-up businesses. “I’m really in support of option 5,” she said.

Member Jaylyn Hawks also said she preferred option 5. Echoing others who commented, eliminating a “use by right” currently in effect for overnight lodging. Hawks disclosed she owns a bed & breakfast after being advised to do so by Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan.

Member Greg Halliday also endorsed option 5. “We have vastly exceeded our infrastructure,” he said, noting two-lane Highway 191 is ill equipped to handle the amount of in-season traffic.

Chair Evan Clapper did not name any option. Instead, he said after the meeting that he recognizes “the community’s consensus that came from the roots up to us. Landmark heard the people, too, and are steering things in the appropriate direction to reflect citizens’ wishes.”

Wells disclosed he owns overnight rentals before saying he, too, is frustrated by the volume of visitors that come to town. His neighborhood off Fifth West, he said, has become a second Highway 191.

He also said, however, that while people are frustrated, other people have made investments in overnight rentals.

He also cautioned his peers that the Utah Legislature in the recent past tried to take overnight rental oversight away from counties that want to limit them. He said he was “much more a 3-4 person.”

Option 3 from Landmark Design calls for more intense overnight accommodation north of downtown, development that caters to the local community’s needs south of downtown – with overnight accommodation overlays – and the elimination of overnight accommodations downtown. No overnight accommodations would be allowed north of the Colorado River.

“The public has been very clear in what they want,” said Zacharia Levine, the director of Grand County Community and Economic Development. “We’ve had more consensus on this issue than any issue I’ve ever worked on in this county.”