Hundreds appeal to county, city for continued lodging cutback

Letter: No ‘new projects’ until pending projects are done

A physical copy of an open letter — an effort to pressure the Grand County Council and Moab City Council to continue limiting the amount of lodging developments the municipalities allow — ready for signing. The actual letter is posted online. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Amid discussions over lodging regulations that will govern new hotels and motels in Moab, more than 560 local residents have signed an open letter to city and Grand County elected officials asserting that the level of tourist visitation to Moab is “too high” and asking that the council “NOT allow any new projects” into the planning pipeline until “pending projects,” also known as vested projects, have been built.

Liz Thomas, who authored the letter and posted it at www.saveourtown.net to begin collecting signatures late last year, said the campaign began after a group of residents met in March 2019 to discuss the temporary restriction on new applications for lodging developments.

“After the temporary moratoriums were in place, folks realized that revising the zoning rules for overnight accommodations was going to be one of the most important things the city and county would do for many years to come to shape the future of our community,” Thomas said.

In response to this, Thomas organized a public sign-on letter, a predecessor to the current letter. The previous letter contained much of the same verbiage as the current one, with the same requests for keeping new projects out of the pipeline and prohibiting new lodging “south of town.” In the end, that letter gained over 700 signatures.

Months hence, the landscape has changed, and a new letter is circulating. Both the county council and the Moab City Council are considering new ordinances that, if passed, would allow for new lodging developments in certain areas in and around the valley, subject to new environmental, building and design standards.

Thomas said she supports the standards, but they are not the primary subject addressed in the letter.

“The main issue is whether Moab is going to take control of its destiny and prevent tourist accommodation from crowding out all the things we love about our small-town community,” Thomas said.

Specifically, the letter expresses a wish for the city and county to allow no new lodging south of town so as to reserve “an area where other businesses do not have to compete with the lodging industry for land.” The lucrative nature of lodging in Moab makes it such that, where lodging can be built, such businesses easily outcompete other kinds of business.

The letter also requests that new lodging development applications not be accepted until Moab “has had a chance to feel the impacts” of the imminent 30% increase in the number of overnight rental units that will be brought about over the coming months and possibly years by vested projects yet to reach completion. Such vested projects were approved to move forward prior to last year’s moratoria on lodging developments.

The timing of passing new lodging ordinances has also shifted since the first open letter went out. City officials face the start of Utah’s annual legislative session coming at the end of the month, and soon thereafter the one-year anniversary of lodging developments being put on hold.

As such, and in the context of state lawmakers having recently tried to preempt a Moab ordinance (a state effort in March to overturn Moab’s plastic bag ban) local officials fear that state lawmakers may soon look to pass legislation that overrules Moab’s decision to continue blocking lodging development applications.

For her part, Thomas said she doesn’t think the prospect of the state preemption is likely. Local officials, she said, shouldn’t respond to “threatening remarks about our local legislation,” and that Moab officials would be able to “persuade” state officials of the need for continuing to block lodging development applications.

“Residents elected our local council members to work for our community, not to do the bidding of state legislators,” Thomas said.