Gary Carmichael, center, and his wife Judy are asking the Grand County Council to approve their request for a rezone of their property in Spanish Valley, where they hope to build about 70 houses for local, middle-income families. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

After a spirited discussion with compelling arguments on both sides, the Grand County Council had to postpone its vote this week on whether to approve a requested zone change due to a technicality.

The council was set to vote on Tuesday, Jan. 5, on a zone change request from Judy and Gary Carmichael, who want to develop 20 acres of land they have owned and farmed for 40 years. The couple want a rezone from Rural Residential to Small Lot Residential, which would allow them to build about 70 homes on their property located at 3552 Spanish Valley Drive.

But after Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine presented the council with his department’s recommendation against the zone change, it was realized that his office didn’t include an ordinance for consideration.

“Policy requires 48 hours notice because the public has the right to see this ahead of time,” Grand County Council Administrator Ruth Dillon said. “This means we are looking at a postponement.”

The Carmichaels have pledged to build homes that will be affordable to middle-class families.

Judy Carmichael said she and her husband think their plans are worthwhile.

“We intend to sell the property,” she said. “We thought we were doing the right thing by coming in and saying let’s try to do something affordable on this land.”

But many area residents, and the majority of the Grand County Planning Commission, are opposed to the change.

Levine said that his department opposes the rezone because it isn’t in accordance with the general plan, and that the future land use plan doesn’t designate the area for high-density development. He said that problems associated with the rezone included pending changes with the transportation master plan, storm drain plan and the impact fee facilities plan.

“The impact fees facilities plan does not currently account for upzoning,” Levine told the council.“If you just go through the valley and willy-nilly change zones without making associated changes to our impact fees, then the county could be on the hook for increased infrastructure maintenance.”

Several residents addressed the council expressing their concerns, ranging from increased traffic on Spanish Valley Drive and the lack of connecting streets to U.S. Highway 191, to storm drain and flooding issues and the additional cost to taxpayers for the new infrastructure. Others, however, applauded the Carmichaels’ efforts in trying to alleviate Moab’s housing woes.

Grand County resident Cheryl Cook said she is opposed to the rezone and wanted to know if research had been done on the impacts that rezoning would have on taxpayers.

“The addition of 70 to 150 homes will clearly have an impact on the road and on flooding issues along Spanish Valley Drive,” she said. “Who is going to pay for these improvements? Those who are enriched through the sale and development of their property should have to pay for the necessary improvements through impact fees.”

Grand County Planning Commission member Mike Duncan spoke as a private citizen and expressed his concern that the rezone would set a precedent for future Small Lot Residential zoning.

“I hate to see you turn your backs on the general plan, which did have a world of citizen input,” he said.

Kenneth Kolb expressed his concern that once the zone changed, there would be no guarantees that affordable housing would be built.

“I trust the Carmichaels’ intent, but nobody can guarantee the outcome,” Kolb said. “I’ve met some of the nicest developers who turned out to be the most unscrupulous, self serving, back-stabbing jerks you’d ever want to meet.”

Judy Carmichael said she’s been told that she’s naïve, but she added that she and her husband are “not stupid.”

“We know what developers are,” she said. “We’ve dealt with developers our whole life. This is a good thing for the county.”

However, Kolb said that a responsible approach to future development and affordable housing lies within the 2012 master plan.

“Great heed should be taken before making an exception to these rules,” he said. “The possible consequences of passing the zoning change in its current form include zone change requests from three large-lit properties within one half mile of the Carmichael property and the safety and improvement concerns for Spanish Valley Drive.”

Speaking as a private citizen, Grand County Planning Commission member Dave Cozzens said he supports the zone change. He said that right next door, there is a high-density development at Rim Village and that what the Carmichaels are trying to do is just a “drop in the bucket.”

“It’s a little hard to take hearing your friends downgraded in front of a public meeting like this,” he said. “I’ve known the Carmichaels longer than I’ve known anybody up here and they do what they say. I trust them with my life anytime and I can’t say that about this group.”

Michele Hill spoke in favor of the rezone, saying that she thinks it makes sense to spread things out through the valley.

“We do need affordable housing,” she said. “It’s not high density like you’re talking about putting closer to town. It would be lovely to see it more spread out for the public and have more affordable and moderate-priced housing.”

Even though the possibility for a vote was gone, some council members still shared their opinions on the subject.

Grand County Council member Chris Baird said that he is frustrated at hearing from people that there isn’t any mechanism that guarantees affordable housing.

“We do have a mechanism in place for affordable housing,” Baird said. “The possibility exists to upzone it to Large Lot Residential, which will increase the density by 100 percent.”

Baird said that the land use code of 2008 set up bonus densities for affordable housing purposes, and that this would be a way that the Carmichaels could get the kind of density they wanted, while ensuring that affordable housing was built.

“Just giving away the density with no affordable housing requirement, I can’t be in favor of that,” he said. “The market is limitless with regard to the number of people from out of town who would invest in a small home and easily outcompete the locals.”

Council member Lynn Jackson said that he is as frustrated as everybody over affordable housing.

“It seems like for the last decade we’ve had a lot of good people trying to come up with solutions to our housing issue,” Jackson said. “I would have been inclined to support this zoning change. Not because it’s an easy decision to make, but because we’re in a pickle here.”

Jackson said that as the town grows, it will be inevitable that commercial and residential development moves into the open spaces south of town.

“I think this is a good spot for the kind of housing that I think the Carmichaels want to do,” he said. “There are some problems here, but perhaps if we have to postpone this a couple weeks the Carmichaels can reconsider if this Large Lot Residential might work.”

Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs said that she is opposed to taking a piecemeal approach to planning for the county by taking one lot and rezoning it, but said that rezoning to Large Lot Residential may be a step toward compromise.

“I want to see us take an approach for how the whole looks, not just one piece of the puzzle,” Tubbs said. “We’re going to look back someday and say talk about unintended consequences, why did we do this? We do have a general plan that was ratified only ratified three years ago and we’re already willing to push it aside? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

County postpones vote due to technicality

I want to see us take an approach for how the whole looks, not just one piece of the puzzle. We’re going to look back someday and say, ‘Talk about unintended consequences, why did we do this?’ We do have a general plan that was ratified only ratified three years ago and we’re already willing to push it aside? I don’t think that’s a good idea.