3-3 vote defeats lodging ordinance

Thursday meeting to revisit hot issue

A vote Thursday nixed a plan to remove lodging as a protected use within unincorporated Grand County. The plan would have prevented new lodging developments from popping up around Grand County, but vested projects such as the one shown here would be permitted to move forward. Photo by Carter Pape

Despite overwhelming public support, a proposed ordinance to remove overnight lodging as a use by right – meaning they could not be developed, at least temporarily in Grand County – failed to pass after council members voted 3-3, in the absence of Member Jaylyn Hawks, at Tuesday’s July 16 Grand County Council meeting.

Despite the Tuesday antics, the council has scheduled a special meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 18, to again take action on the same ordinance, as well as a resolution to enact it.

On Tuesday, Chair Evan Clapper, Vice Chair Terry Morse and Member Mary McGann voted to adopt the ordinance while members Curtis Wells, Greg Halliday and Rory Paxman voted in opposition.

As the owner of a bed & breakfast, it is unknown how or if Hawks would have voted. Prior to the vote, Paxman and Wells disclosed they operate or have relatives who operate overnight lodging businesses.

Before the vote on Tuesday, Paxman said he was opposed out of concern for property rights. Neither Wells nor Halliday addressed the issue prior to the vote, but Wells had much to say on Wednesday, telling The Times-Independent, “I went before the planning commission and council and communicated my concerns on numerous occasions,” he said. “There was never any attempt to compromise or work together. This was a partisan bulldoze attempt and I’m not the least bit surprised it failed.

“I’m embarrassed and disappointed that the public’s resources are being wasted,” he continued. “I’m also frustrated at the lack of communication and compromise from those that think they’re in power.”

The decision took Clapper by surprise. “I was shocked by the outcome, mainly because the council has been steering this process every step of the way,” he said. “Any concerns should have been addressed a long time ago.”

Morse left the meeting after the vote, telling The Times-Independent on Wednesday he was so upset he was contemplating resigning his seat. McGann left council chambers afterwards, but soon returned to participate in the remainder of the meeting.

Hundreds of citizens have attended workshops, town halls and special and regular meetings at both the city and council levels after both councils enacted moratoria on new development of overnight accommodations for a six-month period that began in February and ends Aug. 5.

Whether this puts an end to the process is unknown. A special meeting would have to be held for a new vote, and there are no indications anyone would change their vote or how Hawks would vote, if at all.

“To be frank, I don’t know what the next few weeks or months look like following last night’s failed vote,” said Zacharia Levine, the director of Grand County Community and Economic Development. He knows with certainty, he said, that if the council “fails to adopt any changes to the land use code prior to Aug. 4, regulation of new [overnight accommodation] developments reverts to the current standards.”

There are no regular meetings scheduled between now and Aug. 4. “No one directed me to make additional modifications to the proposed ordinance prior to the vote last night or since, nor has anyone asked me to provide additional research or policy suggestions as of the writing of this e-mail,” wrote Levine.

Despite the huge effort Levine and his staff put into the proposed ordinance, which came with considerable expense after the county retained land use planning consultant Landmark Design, he declined to express his reaction to Tuesday’s vote, saying “it’s incumbent upon the individuals who were elected to provide policy and strategic leadership to opine on what happened, and where we go next.”

He believes the proposed ordinance was backed by solid research findings, public engagement and legal options available for regulating the development of overnight lodging. Levine also said the proposed ordinance reflects “good policy for managing change in Grand County and growth in accommodations in tourism.” Levine is writing a doctoral dissertation on the development trajectories of western gateway and resort communities.

Levine said Grand County is one of many in the West grappling with the impacts of tourism growth. “We simply cannot avoid the need to holistically plan for balance,” he said. “While the proposed ordinance, in my opinion, represented a step in that direction, I submit that a myriad of other polices could also move us in that direction.”

From Levine’s vantage point, the proposed ordinance represents the most critical planning and development issue over the past two decades – one that could have positive impacts on the quality of life for residents. Without it in place, the “overdose of tourists” Vice Chair Morse mentioned a couple of weeks ago will go “largely unaddressed,” said Levine.

That will not be the end of the story if McGann has her way. Still livid on Wednesday, McGann offered this response: “The citizens of our community made their desires known at open houses, public hearings, through emails, and phone calls that they wanted to slow down the growth of overnight rentals and hotels until all of the projects in the pipeline are built and impacts assessed, the water studies were completed, we could develop building codes that require energy-efficient buildings, and do a study to determine how many overnight accommodations our county could support before the scales tipped and the overnight rentals would cease to be profitable.

“There were some citizens who did not support the ordinance, however the number of people opposed were a small minority, and were composed largely of those that would profit financially from more overnight rental properties,” she continued.

McGann noted the work that has gone into the effort. “For six months the planning department has worked closely with the planning commission, county council, the public, and our county attorney to develop an ordinance and a resolution that would slow down the growth while avenues could be created for more overnight accommodations to be developed in the future in a manner that is sustainable, and quality developments,” she said.

She also noted council members had opportunities to address any concerns. “A workshop was held on July 12 to give the council the opportunity to express any changes to the draft ordinance and resolution they needed to gain their support,” she said. “Member Rory Paxman did not attend the workshop. Greg Halliday asked few if any questions, then left the workshop early. When I asked Curtis Wells if there were changes he needed to see to gain his support, Wells would not say he would or would not support the draft ordinance and resolution. I was not surprised by Rory’s and Curtis’s vote, but Greg’s was a huge disappointment.

“He lives in an area of the county, Castle Valley, that will not have a large disruptive hotel built next to his property or take away from his view as he travels to and from Highway 128 to his home, yet he was unwilling to vote to protect the desires of the majority of the citizens in Grand County.

“ I think Greg failed to represent the views and concerns of his constituents, who have been involved in the process and who have voiced opposition to more overnight accommodations.  Moving forward I will do my best to find ways to slow down the growth of overnight rentals in Grand County.”