Planners back temporary ban on new lodging

If a plan proposed by the Moab City Planning Commission is followed, lodging developments would continue over the coming months to be temporarily curtailed while existing and vested projects, such as the WorldMark by Wyndham shown here, would be allowed to continue. Photo by Carter Pape

Members of the Moab City Planning Commission recently backed a plan to pass a temporary ban on lodging developments to create time over the coming months to formulate a long-term solution to regulating lodging developments.

Although the plan would not literally extend the current moratorium, which is preventing new hotel development applications from being accepted, the proposed rules would have almost the same effect.

“This isn’t a decision that, permanently, we want no new overnight accommodations in town,” said City Planning Director Nora Shepard at the planning commission meeting Thursday, June 13.

“Right now, we have a lot [of lodging developments] that are coming up that have already been approved, that are vested, that are probably going to be built,” she continued. “We need to take a pause and write regulations so that we get what we want when we allow overnight accommodations.”

According to this plan, the temporary ban would be replaced over the coming months by new ordinances that would restore lodging as a protected use but require such developments to meet certain conditions, such as mixed-use development, design standards and other regulations.

Local real estate agent Rachel Moody attended the meeting and said she believed the city and county were “heading in the right direction in redeveloping their lodging codes.” She also advocated for mixed use development requirements.

“I am very pleased with the rhetoric heading toward a recommendation of zoning for the existing lodging establishments, rather than forcing them into legal non-conforming uses,” Moody said.

Avoiding legal troubles

Moab City officials, including Shepard and City Manager Joel Linares, expressed concern last week that writing into city code a ban on new lodging developments – similar to the fifth option presented in May by consulting firm Landmark Design – might present legal challenges.

In response to a question from Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton, Linares said at a meeting June 11, “The question you’re asking is: ‘How long can we go with balanced growth, option five, before we have to actually adopt an overlay or permit some type of overnight rentals to come into the fold?’ That’s a great question. I don’t have the answer.”

Joel Linares

These concerns and unknowns could be mitigated if the city follows up the ban quickly (i.e. within six months to a year, according to Linares) with new ordinances that restore lodging as a protected use within city limits.

If the plan is followed, the city council and planning commission would work over the coming months to formulate ordinances that establish conditions and requirements on new and possibly existing lodging developments.

“These overlays may happen at some point, and we are trying to make these something that Moab and the community would like to see, but it is not something that we are going to implement before the moratorium ends, and it is not something that is going to be applied at any future date that we can predict,” said Planning Commission Chair Allison Brown.

City Attorney Chris McAnany added that Moab already has ordinances in place that apply to certain zones where lodging is allowed that are “going in the same direction that Landmark is proposing,” by establishing design standards and other regulations on the form that lodging developments can take.

What the future might hold

Construction at the Wingate Wyndham on Highway 191, south of town, continues through the heat of summer. Photo by Carter Pape

A starting point for developing new lodging regulations is likely to be ordinances provided to the city and county by Landmark Design, which was hired by the municipalities in March to help write ordinances prior to the expiration of their moratoria that would address questions of regulating lodging developments.

Following the conclusion of the discussion on June 13 of how to implement the temporary lodging development ban, planning commissioners resolved to begin the process of reviewing ordinances developed by Landmark Design regarding lodging developments.

Although the discussion did not go far, following a roughly 90-minute meeting on the temporary ban, commissioners did share some preliminary thoughts.

Planning Commissioner Kya Marienfeld said that she hoped to see new lodging developments limited to the area north of Moab’s downtown area and to put in place allowances for redevelopment of lodging businesses in other parts of town where they currently exist.

However, she said, she did not want lodging development in the downtown area to expand. “I don’t think [the downtown center] is an appropriate place for new overnight accommodations, so that’s personally why I’ve really paid attention most to the north corridor and potentially the south corridor,” Marienfeld said.

She said she had “similar feelings” against allowing lodging development in the south corridor. “It makes the most sense for visitors to be concentrated in a certain area,” Marienfeld said, adding that the south corridor is developing as a primarily residential area and that residential development should remain “a priority” in that part of town.