In a 6-1 vote, the Moab City Planning Commission July 3 voted to favorably recommend ordinances that would remove lodging as a protected use inside city limits with the exception of existing lodging businesses.
Commissioner Brian Ballard cast the lone vote against recommending the ordinances, which had already been endorsed by city council members who discussed it at their July 9 meeting.
During discussion of the ordinances, Ballard expressed a grave outlook on how he expected local developers and property owners to handle the new rules, which protect existing lodging developments. “I’m afraid that the litigation that is going to arise from all of this, the city will not be able to afford, and you mark my word,” Ballard said. “They’re going to already be in litigation, and how much of that can they afford?”
Commissioner Kya Marienfeld defended the ordinances, saying they were part of the city doing its “due diligence” to control the local growth of tourism and the effects it’s had on the community, and that court precedent was in the city’s favor.
“We’re not setting ourselves up for litigation we’re going to lose,” Marienfeld said. “If people want to litigate, they’re going to litigate, and that’s going to cost the city money, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame the city for trying to do the right thing when other people are going to be the ones bringing those lawsuits and wasting taxpayer money, not the city, who has done their due diligence on this to make it as ironclad and legal as possible.”
Ballard later continued, expressing skepticism at the idea of taking away property rights with the promise of later returning them in a different form.
“Now that we’re taking the rights away, you’re confident that they’re going to come back?” Ballard asked the other commissioners. “That’s a scary proposition. When you take the rights away from something, and then you decide, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you some back.’ Oh my goodness. Have we not learned that lesson in the history?”
Planning Commissioner Becky Wells has spoken in defense of developers and holders of property rights during the past few months as lodging ordinances have been in development. She responded to Ballard with a less fatalistic tone. “I understand where you’re coming from,” Wells said. “I guess I’m just hopeful that most of them will come back with some different specifications in different areas, and it’ll be a happy compromise.”
Planning Commissioner Jeanette Kopell said she recognized that “change is going to happen,” and that she didn’t like the direction Moab is going, part of why she is resigning from the commission at the end of the year. “To have high density – or density in general – is something we’re not familiar with, we’re not comfortable with,” Kopell said. “Joe [Kingsley, a retired real estate agent,] said there’s a lot of open space in this town to develop. I don’t want it to be developed. I know it’s going to be.”
Kopell cited Portland as an example of a city that is turning away from single-family housing in favor of more affordable alternatives, such as apartment complexes and other higher-density housing. Marienfeld chimed in, saying Minneapolis had also passed legislation moving that city in a similar direction.
Kopell bemoaned the effect that the proposed lodging ordinances would have, if passed by the city.
“This is super hard for me as a property owner and as a citizen of Moab,” Kopell said. “This [the set of proposed ordinances] looks great, this is great, but I feel for you, Brian.”