Is city-owned property across the road from Old City Park the right place to build essential workforce housing?

City officials plan to take a closer look at the idea, after Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson identified the land in Spanish Valley as one potential site for homes that could accommodate families in need of housing.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re going to start on that right now,” she told the Moab City Council during its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison said the city is talking about the idea of loosely defined essential housing, and is “not necessarily” pursuing the idea of affordable housing at the site.

Davidson said she kept the language deliberately vague because she doesn’t know where future discussions about the issue are headed.

“As that policy is further refined, we’ll know what the council wants, and we’ll know where we need to go,” she said. “We’ll call it whatever you want to call it, and if it’s only essential housing, that’s fine.”

While the idea is still in its early stages, Moab City Council members Kirstin Peterson and Gregg Stucki are receptive to the preliminary concept that Davidson outlined.

“I really like the idea of us taking the lead on this kind of issue and committing both time and resources and money,” Peterson said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to solve the problem, but at least we can make a dent in it.”

“We all have come to realize that solving this or addressing this is going to take different angles,” Stucki said. “This could be a real nice one.”

Davidson said she realized how pressing the community’s housing needs are as she listened to job applicants describe their fruitless searches for housing in the area.

“It feels like I hear more and more as I sit in on an interview or two, I hear the response back that, ‘Wow, I can’t find anywhere to live,’” she said. “That’s so real and it just keeps hitting us over and over, and so we’re missing out on some, I think, really good employees by not having that opportunity.”

If the city decides to move forward with the concept and comes up with a design, Davidson said it would submit a request for proposals to hire a private construction firm. The city would then determine whether the property would be sold, or whether it would be used for rental housing.

“I don’t foresee ever the city being in the management of the contract or the management of the property or any of that,” Davidson said.

Moab City Council member Doug McElhaney, who said that government agencies are “notoriously, unbelievably cumbersome” when it comes to property management, would certainly hope not.

McElhaney said he managed six apartments and made a living at it. However, he said that “without getting too specific,” much-larger public sector housing projects haven’t had the same luck.

“I’ve seen 30-unit apartment complexes managed by government agencies that don’t,” he said.

McElhaney said he’s fine with the idea of working to make the project happen.

“But for us to make something that just builds another government agency to run it? No,” he said.

Davidson said she agrees with McElhaney.

“We don’t have the staff; we don’t have the ability to do that in-house,” she said.

At this point, she said she can assure the council that developers would do a better job in terms of building any housing on the property.

“We don’t need to be in that business,” she said. “We just need to have that housing.”

Council member Heila Ershadi said she believes that city officials are performing their due diligence at this point.

“It’s just seeing what are the possibilities, and is this something that we want to pursue, period,” she said.

Davidson said that city officials must still conduct further studies of the idea to determine if the project is even feasible.

“We have no idea right now; it’s conjecture,” she said. “So what we want to do is put pencil to paper and run some (calculations) and see if it’s a reasonable project.”

Spanish Valley site ID’d as potential location

I really like the idea of us taking the lead on this kind of issue and committing both time and resources and money … I don’t know if we’ll be able to solve the problem, but at least we can make a dent in it.