Overnight lodging debate to be decided within weeks

David Hershel speaks on behalf of the family of Kevin Carroll, the late owner of Carroll Drilling, LLC, who spent four years and more than $2 million permitting an overnight lodging development next to the Springhill Suites by Marriott on Highway 191. The project was not yet vested, apparently, and would not be exempt from a ban on future development of overnight lodging. Hershel asked the Grand County Council to work on a compromise, saying the family “would be devastated.” Carroll died Sunday in an airplane crash. Photo by Doug McMurdo

The Grand County Council on Tuesday heard from both sides during a lengthy public hearing on a potential ordinance banning future development of overnight accommodations – at least for awhile – after the planning commission that advises it voted 6-1 to recommend doing so last spring.

That decision was based on overwhelming public sentiment from residents who responded to a survey put out by Landmark Design, a land use consulting firm the city and county councils retained to help draft future land use ordinances. The firm offered five options, ranging from doing nothing about slowing the growth of overnight lodging developments to banning them outright, which is the option chosen.

While those who favor the ban cite the high number of tourists and the impacts they cause, from traffic congestion to resource degradation, landowners and property rights activists claim the ban would violate those rights and would cause them to face significant financial impacts.

Clearly, both sides have points to make and they did so July 2. Russell Vacita admonished members, saying the council’s job is to “do what’s best for the county.” He said 90 percent of residents “say no to overnight rentals.”

To those who claim financial loss would result from the ban, he said investing in real estate is speculative and investors can “win or lose.” He also said property rights don’t come “without reasonable limits.” He said those who resist the ban do so due to “personal greed.”

Win Smith said it only made sense to see what the effects of a 38 percent increase in overnight rentals have before allowing more. That’s the percentage of projects that will be built regardless of whether the ban is approved, adding 1,500 more rooms, based on the number of developments in the pipeline that are vested and therefore exempt.

Former Mayor Karla Hancock said the reason behind the frenzy of overnight lodging development is to “milk the tourists for their gain and our loss,” adding the tax on water resources alone is enough reason to support the ban.

Salt Lake City-based attorney Bruce Baird speaks on behalf of his clients, Lionsback Moab, which purchased land in the 900 block of Main Street for $3 million in December on which to build a hotel, based at least in part on county assurances the development would be approved. Two months later a moratorium on overnight accommodations went into effect before the project could vest. Baird requested the county council to exempt his property if it ultimately decides to prohibit the future construction of such developments. Photo by Doug McMurdo

On the other side, attorney Bruce Baird on behalf of developer Lionsback asked for an exemption, noting the company has already invested millions of dollars on hotel plans for the 900 block of Main Street. David Hershey spoke on behalf of the late Kevin Carroll’s family, saying the family has invested several years and more than $2 million to develop a project on the highway – on top of the $1.5 million the family paid for the property. Both men sought an exemption, or at least a compromise, in Hershey’s case. Carroll died in a plane crash Sunday.

Katherine Holyoak, a 50-year resident, also asked the county council to reject the ban, as did Randy Day, who said the ban would effectively take away a third of the income investors would earn.

Liz Thomas, on the other side, reminded the council that the ban is not permanent, but is only a “pause” and she also questioned the legal grounds cited by property rights proponents.

Public comment will be open until July 10. They can be delivered in person to the county administrative offices in the courthouse or online at [email protected].

The council could take action later this month. The moratorium that went into effect in February expires Aug. 4.