Mike Toninelli voiced concerns about the city's public notification process at the Moab City Council's meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

A new apartment complex currently under consideration in Moab is highlighting the challenges of developing a “whole community” in an economy that relies predominantly on the tourism industry.

On Jan. 10, 2017, the Moab City Council will hold a public hearing on the city planning commission’s recommendation to grant a conditional use permit for a 10-building, 196-unit apartment complex south of Mill Creek Drive near U.S. Highway 191.

At the Moab City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, the project’s immediate neighbors voiced their concerns about the proposal. Among other things, they said the public notification process was inadequate, and they questioned the potential for future commercial use of the residences.

The zoning regulations in the neighborhood are designed to encourage business and light industrial development, and to beautify the entrances to the city, according to the Moab Municipal Code. In the case of the Mill Creek Apartment Complex, project owner Hogan and Associates is seeking a conditional use permit to maximize the allowable residential density and provide housing for middle- and lower-income residents, development partner Mike Bynum said.

The group is also building the new “Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton” hotel and convention center complex where a trailer park once stood in downtown Moab. Bynum said that at the outset of that project, the group committed to following up with an affordable housing development elsewhere.

“We stated the intent to create accommodations for lower-income families, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Bynum said. “Because I said I would.”

Toninelli’s Painting and Decorating owner and neighbor Mike Toninelli is concerned that the project is moving forward without a meaningful public process. He said that when he was initially notified of the proposed project last year, he had only three days to prepare to speak at the planning commission’s public hearing.

Notifications of public hearings printed in the newspapers aren’t sufficient, he said, because they don’t provide details and create an undue burden on citizens, who must have access to the internet and time to spend searching for relevant information.

“It might be legal,” Toninelli said of the public notification process. “But it doesn’t work.”

Wildland Scapes owner Kara Dohrenwend said that she supports the concept of building affordable housing in Moab. But she told the council that without deed restricting at least some units for local residents who fall within a certain income range, she isn’t sure how the planning commission can be comfortable approving the conditional use for an otherwise unrestricted development in the zone.

Grand County is preparing to release a proposal for an assured housing ordinance, which generally obligates developers to mitigate burdens on the community by contributing to development of affordable residential units. But the City of Moab currently doesn’t have one, Moab City Council member Kalen Jones said, so a developer can choose to deed restrict properties as affordable, but the city has no legal authority to require them to.

Overnight rental accommodations are an approved use for development in the area, and while Jones said he recognizes this conditional use permit is being considered in good faith, he said a developer can legally turn around and sell a property for development by another entity once zoning is approved.

The project brings to light the question of how Moab is going to move forward making it possible for a whole community to thrive here, he said. While the density designed into the Mill Creek Apartment Complex makes it possible for the developers to realize a return while offering studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units available to lower- and middle-income residents, the design making it possible may not reflect the community’s desires, he said.

The nearby Cinema Court apartments were constructed with lower densities by securing various public financing mechanisms, Jones said. He added that it could be possible for the Mill Creek Apartment Complex to be built at lower densities if public funding could be secured to help finance the development’s affordable housing component.

Moab’s seasonal workforce and high land prices present a conundrum for securing public financing for projects here, said Lotus Community Development Institute president Marci Milligan, who was a consultant on the Cinema Court development.

“A lot of people are working on how to get that to pencil out,” she said. “We still haven’t figured it out.”

For their part, the developers are pleased with the final design, which incorporates open space for a playground and stormwater mitigation, and will also include a nursery for families requiring day-care services, Bynum said. The complex will also incorporate a pedestrian and cyclist path connecting it to both Mill Creek Drive and eventually the new Utah State University–Moab campus.

“We certainly want to have a positive impact and add to the community,” Bynum said. “We’re doing what we can to work with the community to lessen any negative impact.”

Project’s immediate neighbors question public notification process, guarantee of affordable housing

We certainly want to have a positive impact and add to the community. We’re doing what we can to work with the community to lessen any negative impact.