General election Q&A: Rani Derasary

You can read more about this Q&A and how the other candidates responded in the related story.

Rani Derasary is an incumbent to the Moab City Council, running for re-election in 2019. She was the second highest vote-getter in 2019, with 656 votes. She was first elected to the seat in 2015.

Here is how Derasary responded to our three questions:

T-I: The City of Moab, during its ongoing moratorium on new lodging developments, is on the clock to write and pass lodging standards. These standards will determine how future lodging developments look and operate.

There are many ideas regarding how these standards should be written. What are your top two priorities regarding how lodging is regulated in Moab, and how do you propose to implement them via policy?

Derasary: My top two priorities are advancing efficient building standards and promoting mixed use.

Given the unknowns about water in our valley and changing climate, it would be irresponsible of us not to adopt standards minimizing water and energy use, getting buildings to generate their own where possible.

Similarly, community support for the February 2019 moratorium on new lodging was largely rooted in concern that lodging was outpacing other uses. You can lose the opportunity for the added retail, office and restaurant space residents are seeking, for example, by having a hotel lobby on your ground floor. With new standards, you could require mixed uses on that floor.

Dynamic, economically thriving communities are finding ways to integrate housing into their commercial areas, too, for example, by putting housing above commercial uses. Mixed use also offers the opportunity to integrate shuttle stops, shaded areas and oversized vehicle parking – things that could help combat congestion and increase resilience.

In terms of implementation, new standards would be generated by the planning commission, and sent through the normal public hearing to ordinance process. 

T-I: Relative to the area’s median income, Grand County has the least affordable rent in the State of Utah. The typical household spends more than 30% of its income on rent. Property values have increased dramatically in recent years while incomes have fallen.

Some candidates have proposed voluntary deed restriction programs to address the problem. Most agree that higher density housing is what is most needed. Where in the city should higher density housing get built, and how would you handle or mitigate pushback from homeowners who do not want those developments in or near their neighborhood?

Derasary: Being on the city council you learn there is no single solution to housing issues; rather, we have to keep tackling housing from many directions, density being just one.

First I think you need to define “higher density.” To some people, that means austere, institutional-looking multistory apartment buildings. But density can take many forms, from much more thoughtful stepped-back apartments, to adding ADUs (accessory dwelling units) to single-family lots, to the city’s PAD ordinance, and integrating multiple housing types and sizes as contemplated by the Moab Area Community Land Trust.

In this respect, I think some form of density can fit into most zones, but you must: review what density is currently allowed where; involve the community in discussions about how to best design it; integrate their suggestions about solar access, buffering, integrating shade, etc.; and not leave one neighborhood feeling it was sacrificed to benefit others.

Finally, it’s important to understand that just because you allow higher density, that does not guarantee a property owner will take this approach.

T-I: Housing and lodging are perhaps the most obvious challenges facing the city. What is one other, major challenge that the city faces, and how do you plan to address it?

Derasary: I’m giving you two that are interrelated: water and infrastructure.

Like much of the U.S., Moab has aging water and sewer pipes. At a recent infrastructure meeting, city staff and council discussed the need for more than $70 million for infrastructure improvements – more than $30 million of this for critical fixes.

As a council, we will have to budget more each year to address this. We are fortunate to have skilled staff helping us prioritize projects and identify financing options.

As for water, we are still in the process of figuring out how much our valley has, and how climate change will impact that. We don’t want to undermine aquifers or over-allocate water.

I am attending water workshops and learning from the city’s Water Conservation and Drought Management Advisory Board, USGS studies, reports from hydrologists van der Heijde and Kolm, and the city sustainability action plan to help me understand our options from here.