Some Sunny Acres residents don’t object to proposed truck stop

Unregulated land use, not SITLA, the problem

Construction crews install water lines at the corner of Sunny Acres Lane and Highway 191, near where a Love’s Travel Stop has been proposed.
Photo by Carter Pape

In recent public meetings, many Spanish Valley residents have expressed their opposition to a deal between the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration and Love’s Travel Stops to develop land in the valley that would later become a truck stop.

The property borders backyards of some nearby residents, leading some to call the development “unethical.” Others have said it would “change Spanish Valley forever.”

Meanwhile, other Spanish Valley residents have a more positive tone about the change.

“I’m really happy about it,” said Nikki Bowen about the Love’s development.

Positive sentiments

Bowen lives on Sunny Acres Lane, right next to the planned truck stop. Her house faces the property where Love’s is planned to go. Given the proximity to the potential future truck stop, she said she looks forward to having a store right next to her house.

“I like the fact that I will have a convenient place where I can go if I run out of milk or other things,” Bowen said. Some of Bowen’s neighbors have similar sentiments; one man on Sunny Acres who declined to be identified said he was also excited about the development.

Bowen said that she was also excited that the Love’s would give truckers a place to stop on their way through the area, given the lack of a truck stop in that general vicinity on Highway 191. “There are no places for them, so it’s nice to make a place for them to stop,” Bowen said.

But some of Bowen’s neighbors are less enthusiastic.

Mixed sentiments

Linda Darcey lives with her husband Frank Darcey a few hundred feet down the road from where the Love’s has been proposed. She and her husband both said they are “not happy” about the truck stop, but Mr. Darcey isn’t terribly worried. “I’m on the fence about it,” Mr. Darcey said. He later added that “change is inevitable.”

Mr. Darcey and his wife moved to the Moab area 30 years ago and built their current house on Sunny Acres around the year 2000. Due to increased traffic past their house, they say they’ve considered building a wall next to their house to absorb sound and give them a greater sense of privacy.

Mr. Darcey has a history of working in National Parks, hence his main concern: That development in Spanish Valley could take away the area’s dark skies. He blames a lack of land-use planning in the San Juan County portion of Spanish Valley as a cause of this concern, which is his biggest problem with the area.

Land use as core problem

Properties that will be next-door neighbors to the Love’s, should it be built, were constructed years ago in San Juan County’s highway commercial district, which extends 1,000 feet either direction from Highway 191.

This has prompted some residents like Ms. Darcey to worry about what will happen to the value of her property if the Love’s is built. Bowen said she expected the Love’s would actually increase her property value, given its convenient proximity to business development.

Regardless of how property values fare in the face of the Love’s development, San Juan County officials have indicated that Spanish Valley needs better planning.

Hence, in 2017, the county hired Landmark Design, a planning consultant based in Salt Lake City, to help form a more cogent planning and zoning approach to Spanish Valley. The plans were approved in 2018, and the next step is to enact the plan by passing ordinances from Landmark, including a dark skies regulation.

Landmark said in its 2017 zoning plan that the area just south of the border with Grand County, including Sunny Acres Lane, had been “inconsistently planned” and created a multitude of problems for the area.

“There has been little planning direction in this area in the past, resulting in an inefficient and helter-skelter pattern of development,” Landmark said in its 2017 planning documents. “Efforts should focus on improving the layout of the existing neighborhoods, linking them with a coordinated road and infrastructure system that facilitates in-fill development.”

This lack of planning has led to developments such as the gravel pit next to La Sal Loop Road and Flat Pass Road. Mr. Darcey said that residents started to catch on to the lack of planning in the area when the pit became very active.

In lieu of zoning restrictions around the SITLA property, a Love’s truck stop may be the next passage in the story of development at the Grand County border. But if San Juan County adopts ordinances proposed by Landmark that would establish more thorough planning in the area, it may turn the page into a more restrictive chapter of Spanish Valley’s development history.