After denying one zone change request, and now considering another, the Grand County Council is tackling future residential development at a time when land is at a premium, and a lack of affordable housing is nearing a crisis point.
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19, the council voted 4-3 to deny Judy and Gary Carmichael’s request to change the zoning on 20 acres of land they have owned and farmed for more than 40 years at 3553 Spanish Valley Drive. Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs, and council members Chris Baird, Jaylyn Hawks and Mary McGann voted against the request, while Lynn Jackson, Rory Paxman and Ken Ballantyne voted for it.
The couple have said they want to develop their property in a way that will provide new home opportunities for moderate-income families. But opponents say the up-zoning from Rural Residential to Small Lot Residential would change the rural character of the area, increase traffic on Spanish Valley Drive and create more demand on infrastructure with no guarantee that affordable housing will be built.
Jackson, who made the motion to approve the zone change, said that many valid comments were made for and against the up-zone, but that there aren’t any easy solutions to affordable housing problems in the county.
“In spite of all the hard work we’ve done in our county … we still haven’t solved the problem,” he said. “It appears to me that it is time to let private industry step in and see if they can help solve this issue.”
Baird said he was bothered by the sentiment in letters to the council that workforce housing doesn’t belong in Spanish Valley.
“When we’re talking about workforce housing, we’re literally talking about almost everybody who lives in Grand County who has a job,” he said. “This is like saying locals don’t belong in their own valley … and it almost makes me want to up-zone this to the maximum density that we have.”
But Baird said, “Passing out density like candy is not going to solve the problem. There is an infinite supply of second homeowners who would love to have a nice small lot just the same as any local would.”
Baird proposed that the Carmichaels apply for a Large Lot Residential zone change, whereby they can get a bonus density increase for providing affordable housing.
“I’m willing to play ball if the applicant is,” he said. “If you’re willing to commit to affordable housing, then I’m willing to commit to increased density.”
The Carmichaels could not be reached for additional comment.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council also held a public hearing on a zone-change request made by local realtor Tom Shellenberger on behalf of Salt Lake City-based KLH Development.
The developer is requesting a zone change from Large Lot Residential, to Multi-Family Residential, and wants to develop approximately 40 acres of land it owns at 2022 Spanish Valley Drive.
The Grand County Planning Commission has recommended that the council approve the request, although a traffic and drainage study are still pending.
The Arroyo Crossing development calls for mixed housing with up to 200 units, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments; it also proposes to help alleviate some of Moab’s affordable-housing woes.
Shellenberger told the Moab Sun News that unlike the Carmichael property, the proposed Arroyo Crossing development is in an area identified in a Grand County Master Plan overlay as favorable for higher-density development and affordable housing.
“There’s nothing left in town that has the potential that this development does,” Shellenberger said.
Shellenberger said the developers are serious about meeting the needs of Grand County, and that single family homes would be priced in the $200,000 to $240,000 range.
“We are going to deed-restrict a certain percentage of the homes to keep them in the affordable range for some period of time,” he said.
Project co-developer Jim Lewis gave a presentation to the council, and said that he is “acutely aware” of the affordable-housing needs in the Moab area.
“We love this area, and we are committed to trying to bring something to this part of Spanish Valley that addresses the affordable-housing needs,” he said.
Lewis said that the development incorporates a number of unique and attractive elements into the design, including trails, open spaces and colors and textures to go with the environment. He also said the developers are looking into the possibility of having a solar energy plant for the project, which would be the first of its kind in Utah.
“We can’t commit to that unequivocally right now,” he said. “But we think that is something that we can get accomplished.”
Several residents spoke against the development due to its impact on the area’s rural character, night skies and cultural history. Increased traffic was also a concern, but the primary concern centered around drainage-related issues.
Kenneth Sassen said he wanted to address the problem with hydrology in the development.
“The entire thing is in an arroyo,” Sassen said. “This project is very well-named. They are suggesting to build right in the middle of a ravine.”
Karen Feary said she is concerned about the density proposed for the area.
“I think it is too much,” she said. “I think it will overwhelm all of us who have decided to buy in a rural area, and who enjoy living in a rural area. It’s like putting a small town in the middle of the valley right next to our subdivision.”
Baird commended the developers for their concept, but said he is concerned that the master plan didn’t have any percentage of units on paper committed to affordable housing.
“Are you willing to put it down in black and white?” he asked. “I can’t offer these up-zones without a commitment, on paper, to affordable housing.”
Lewis said he believes they are willing to do that, but that “the devil was in the details in terms of having some kind of understanding between the county, and us, as to what the expectation is.”
Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine said that he supports the Arroyo Crossing rezone and that the county’s General Plan and Future Land Use Plan already call for higher-density housing in this area. He said the county adopted a Multi-Family Residential overlay zone map in 2005 that identified this parcel as being eligible for a rezone to Multi-Family Residential.”
“Decades of research on the high costs of sprawl development suggest that compact development near commercial cores can lead to better social and economic outcomes for communities,” Levine said. “Being so close to city limits, a future USU-Moab campus, the highway commercial zone, and within a major north-south transportation corridor, Arroyo Crossing is, in my opinion, well-sited.”
Levine said that with respect to the Carmichaels’ rezone request, a similar analysis yielded a different conclusion.
“I’m not opposed to seeing five or more units per acre on the Carmichael property,” he said. “I’m in favor of following our long-range planning documents, minimizing long-term infrastructure maintenance costs, developing in a compact and efficient manner and growing our stock of permanently affordable housing. That said, I am confident the Carmichaels will have an opportunity to develop their land in the near future, based on planning efforts and code amendments the housing task force is recommending to the county.”
The Grand County Council will be accepting written comments on the Arroyo Crossing proposal through Monday, Feb. 1.
Affordable housing at the center of both requests
I’m willing to play ball if the applicant is … If you’re willing to commit to affordable housing, then I’m willing to commit to increased density.