City revises Walnut Lane project

Note: This story has been edited to clarify a few issues raised by city officials. The changes are in bold.

City of Moab Senior Project Manager Kaitlin Myers leads a discussion on the Walnut Lane affordable housing project at Tuesday’s city council meeting. Photo by Doug McMurdo

The City of Moab’s ambitious plan to redevelop acreage that’s currently home to a few dozen old but still lived-in trailers on Walnut Lane with an affordable, mixed-income, 80-unit housing complex is slowly moving forward.

Roughly a year after the city spent $2 million to purchase the 38 aged singlewide trailers at 193 Walnut Lane, a few trailers are planned for demolition as they become vacant, and a request is in progress for bids from companies that could remove more trailers as they become available. The process to change the subdivision’s zoning to the highest-density R4 zone is underway. Most of the trees on the property must be removed, and the growing legal issues are significant.

Senior Project Manager Kaitlin Myers and Building Official Barry Ellison led a discussion with the Moab City Council Tuesday, Nov. 12, with a focus on sending out a second round of requests for proposals and requests for qualifications for contractors who can design and build the new project.

In July, the process called for two contracts, one for feasibility, phase one design, bidding and oversight, the other for construction and construction management. There was a heavy emphasis on sustainable building practices at that time, but the reality of construction costs could force the city to take more of a step-by-step approach in order to meet the affordability mandate.

That plan calls for 64 of the 80 units to be at or below 80 percent of area median income (AMI) and the remaining 16 units rented at market rate.

Myers, who was recently hired to concentrate on guiding the Walnut Lane redevelopment project, noted that only five firms responded last summer and that none of them provided adequate proposals. She brought to the council a revised RFP that will be sent to a wider net of firms, including local experts, next week.

The key revisions include 56 of the 80 units to be reserved for low-income residents and 24 at the market rate. The emphasis on sustainability remains, but no longer at the same level it was in July. Greater priority will be given to firms that “demonstrate sustainability and affordability.” This revision will comply with the city’s Planned Affordable Development ordinance.

City Manager Joel Linares requested feedback on the city’s approach, which is to treat Walnut Lane as if it were the first such project of several the city could undertake – and that it needed to be frugal with expenses early on. “Walnut Lane is round one … this is going to be sustainable at the highest level,” he said. He said this first project would be as “sustainable as possible,” with each successive project becoming more sustainable.

The plan no longer calls for just apartments, but a mix of apartments, townhomes, duplexes and micro-homes.

Financing would involve taxable bonds, grants and equity investments.

One of the primary reasons the city decided to purchase the trailer park when it went on the market in 2018 was to ensure the people living there now would not be turned out. As a group, they are a vulnerable population, and a private contractor, according to the general consensus, would simply evict them and demolish the trailers.

Demolishing trailers has also been problematic, as nonfriable asbestos has been found in them. In the meantime, the city as landlord has hired a contractor to repair broken windows. All the trailers have heat, air conditioning and hot water, necessities not all of them had when the city purchased the property.

“Part of the problem is not making people homeless,” said Ellison. He said the intent is to move enough trailers at one area of the park to make room for construction of the first units, which would be reserved for the park’s current residents.

Maintenance, he said, has been a challenge because the trailers are “in rough shape.” There are several trees on the property, but all but five need to come down. Ellison said the city in December will go door-to-door explaining where the project stands, what to expect in the immediate future and what they would like to see in the future.

Linares said efforts are being made to “improve the quality of life” for current residents, most of whom are grateful for the city’s efforts to ensure they have a roof over their head now and in the future, he said. There are other legal issues he said the city will “have to work through,” however.