People who own highway frontage, manage overnight lodging operations, are property rights advocates – or are all of the above – showed up en masse to oppose a fulltime prohibition against developing overnight accommodations in Grand County. It might have been a case of too little, too late for a majority of Grand County Planning commissioners, who in a series of votes following a public hearing Tuesday sent a recommendation asking the Grand County Council to enact legislation that would implement the ban on new lodging developments.
Four months into a six-month moratorium on overnight lodging applications imposed by the county and City of Moab, after numerous public meetings, open houses and workshops with Landmark Design – the land use consulting firm both government entities retained to help draft future land use ordinances – and taking public input through it all, there was nearly universal consensus that it was past time to “hit the pause button” on overnight lodging development to help get a handle on the matter at a time when there is more tourist traffic than the current infrastructure can support.
Until Tuesday. That’s when planning commissioners held a public hearing that brought out enough people to fill the council chambers, including several local landowners, such as Katherine Holyoak, who told commissioners she had no intent to convert property she owns into overnight lodging, but she also said prohibiting her from doing so infringed on her property rights. She said she will eventually leave the nearly 100 acres she owns in Grand and San Juan counties to her children, and she wanted them to have the choice to develop or not.
Longtime local general contractor Richard McElhaney said stopping overnight lodging on Highway 191 where he owns property would “badly” hurt his retirement plan. He also claimed the prohibition would violate his property rights.
Black Oak Development CEO and Sage Creek developer Wayne Aston took a more conciliatory approach. “Prohibition doesn’t work well in this country,” he said, adding that force would promote strife. Others said rather than stopping development of lodging outlets, work should be put into making tourists pay for the problems they cause. Still others said approving the prohibition would create market uncertainty and scare away investors.
Randy Day said the moratorium has already cost him $200,000, but he didn’t go into specifics.
But not everyone who spoke was in opposition. Wayne Hoskisson, a now-retired former executive director of Red Rock Forests, said the huge number of tourists impact all property owners, not “just people who invested a lot of money [in order to] make a lot of money.”
Liz Ballenger, an ecologist with the National Park Service, said she was “taken aback” to see so many speak in opposition, saying the majority of Grand County citizens favor the complete ban on overnight accommodations. “Please don’t forget the comments you have received,” she said. “You have to make tough decisions. We’re at a critical juncture.”
Following public input, six of seven commissioners voted to recommend the Grand County Council approve the proposed ordinance, which would effectively repeal and replace land use rules governing overnight accommodations. The lone holdout was Cricket Green, who said the issue for her was property rights. Green said she was “fifth generation,” and that “many people who favor [the prohibition] don’t own property.”
The comment compelled fellow Planning Commissioner Emily Campbell to later say many people who rent contribute to the betterment of Grand County.
Based on lengthy discussion during the hearing, questions the Grand County Council will have to address – if council members agree to enact the ordinance following a July 16 public hearing – include how to classify bed and breakfast providers and whether to allow existing lodging businesses to expand. There is also concern over rules that limit campgrounds and whether they should be loosened.
The permanency of the prohibition is another sticking point. Day said it might be cheaper to just hire a lawyer rather than going through the county. Several planning commissioners noted the ban could always be lifted.