City grapples with proposed overnight lodging rules

overnight lodging timeshares
Work continues on the Wyndham Destinations’ 150-unit timeshare project next to the Slickrock Campground north of downtown on Monday, Nov. 26. The Moab City Council is discussing new development standards that could lead to lifting a ban on overnight lodging developments in the city. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Proposed requirements could put a damper on new lodging developments if they are ultimately approved by the Moab City Council. The proposals, discussed during a special meeting last week, are in regard to renewable energy, maximizing on-site capture of rainwater, and creating spaces for shuttle stops.

Mayor Emily Niehaus thinks the new rules would, indeed, have such an effect. On the other hand, many council members fear that the standards alone will not be enough to address lodging impacts.

Council members’ concerns seem to be that the northernmost corridor of town might fully develop into environmentally sustainable hotels, but may also use up resources like land, water and sewer capacities. The ideas and impacts were discussed at a recent meeting of the city council.

To account for that contingency, city staff is developing ideas for how to limit the pace at which lodging development can happen. This practice is more commonly known as metering.

The rules would apply to the Resort Community zone at the north end of town. The zone consists of roughly 15 properties, most of them fronted by the mile of Highway 191 between the Colorado River and Rubicon Trail.

The RC zone is the starting point for the council’s push to reallow lodging in Moab as long as those developments meet certain requirements. The next area of interest is likely to be the C-2 zone, which consists of pockets of properties around the center of town. Council Member Mike Duncan pitched one idea on how to meter. He proposed creating a queue of projects ordered on a first-come, first-serve basis and, over time, release projects from the queue, allowing them to go ahead with construction at a hypothetical rate of 100 rooms per year.

This would mean that the lodging developer that gets in line first and is looking to, for example, build 100 rooms could build right away. Supposing the developer next in line plans to build 100 more hotel rooms, they would have to wait 12 months to start construction. This would ensure that no more than 100 rooms are built during any given 12-month period.

The exact number would likely not be 100, and it might not be a measurement of rooms, either. The city could meter lodging development by demand for public utilities, limiting the amount of new water or sewer services that have to go online each year.

However, limits on how many resources new hotels can use have already been proposed. The proposals would require new hotels to generate 80 percent of their energy needs on-premises (for example, with geothermal or solar energy), to maintain only a small amount of turf grass (less than 10 percent of the property’s acreage) and to use low-flow water fixtures (impacting which toilets and showerheads can be installed).

“We’re already metering, in a way, how much growth is going to happen in the overnight accommodations sector by having stricter requirements,” Niehaus said.

Metering unnecessary?

Niehaus went on to say that she was “less worried about metering by number” and more interested in the city “staying tough” on its efficiency and performance requirements.

“If we had 1,000 [units] built to those standards, would that feel too much?” Niehaus said. “Or, would that be like, ‘hey, no worries,’ because they’re held to such strict standards?”

Niehaus later added, after more discussion yielded more questions about what and how to meter, that she thought metering “is complicated,” to which City Manager Joel Linares and City Planner Nora Shepard emphatically concurred. Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton agreed, as well, but had another point to make. “As difficult as metering can be, we really need to look at how much we can withstand,” Guzman-Newton said. She told Linares and Shepard, “Good luck, guys. I don’t know how you do it, but it does have to be done.”

Fundamental challenges

Shepard said that, in her experience working in municipalities that did metering, the measure brought up a multitude of other questions.

One such question, she said, was how to determine whether a development application is complete once it is submitted. Metering can incentivize developers to get their plans submitted quickly rather than completely, meaning that applications can come in nearly empty just to reserve a spot in line.

The complex nature of metering suggests that a great deal of staff resources would be required to do it right, begging another question that Council Member Rani Derasary verbalized. “What is our ultimate goal, here?” Derasary said. “Is our ultimate goal to have a thriving community that can sustain itself long-term? Or is it to maximize profit for a limited number of people in the short term? I think we all came into it thinking that we were trying to do the former with respect for the latter, but it’s part of what makes these decisions difficult.”