Walnut Lane: City to take measured approach to housing development

These trailers on Walnut Lane will become apartments over time if a city plan to revitalize the subdivision goes according to plan. Photo by Carter Pape

Rather than rush forward into the great unknown, the City of Moab will take a more cautious approach to building an affordable housing complex on Walnut Lane.

Senior Project Manager Kaitlin Myers on Tuesday told the Moab City Council that it would be better to design the project first and then go out to bid for a general contractor at a later date.

She said as time has passed she better understands the city’s objective for the site, which is now home to a collection of older singlewide trailers. The city last year purchased the property for about $2 million and hopes to build an affordable housing complex featuring different types of homes.

Myers said the initial requests for proposals the city council approved last month calling on firms that would design and build the complex have been amended to seek only architects who would design the project and create a master plan that would guide construction.

In response to a question from Mayor Emily Niehaus, Myers said the decision to do it in phases rather than in a single “chunk” was made for a number of reasons. “In some ways we don’t even know what we don’t know yet,” she said. When she first came on board, she said there was “a sense of urgency to get something done.”

Council Member Mike Duncan questioned whether splitting the project into two parts would delay the construction. Myers agreed it would, but she explained her reasoning for limiting the scope of the requests for proposals. “It’s either we do a master plan now and spend money now and hopefully avoid change orders down the road,” she said. Change orders that would undoubtedly lead to potential cost overruns and extend the timeline to complete the project.

She said she believes the city could “swing” the expected six-month delay, particularly since the pause could actually help the city pursue grants and loans in what will undoubtedly be a multi-million-dollar project. “Most lenders want to see a master plan,’ she said. Myers also said she expects the project to be higher than the initial $8 million budget to build 80 units.

Toward the end of the discussion, Member Karen Guzman-Newton said her only concern was that architects who design and the contractors who build aren’t always on the same page. “Architects don’t always know the costs,” she said. “But they have lofty ideas.”

The trick, said Myers, is finding the balance between affordability and sustainability with the affordability issue extending to both the city and the future residents.

City Manager Joel Linares noted the city is sailing in uncharted waters. “Nobody has done this before,” he said, adding staff is going slow. “We’re talking our way through it.”

Niehaus questioned whether the city intended to own the property in perpetuity. There was informal consensus that the project would be sold to a private party once, as Guzman-Newton put it, “we get back what we put in.”

Niehaus said any transfer would have to come with deed restrictions that would protect tenants.