Contractors worked on a new unit at the Rim Village development just off the U.S. Highway 191 corridor on Wednesday, Dec. 21. The development, which is home to numerous overnight rentals, lies within the county's highway commercial zone. The Grand County Council opted this week not to consider any limits on new overnight rentals in the zone, despite assurances from county officials that overnight rentals at Rim Village and other existing developments would be grandfathered in as "legal nonconforming uses." [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

Grand County’s highway commercial zone beyond Moab’s city limits will remain open to the development of new overnight rentals.

The Grand County Council has rejected a motion from council member Mary McGann to approve an ordinance that would have limited those developments along the southern U.S. Highway 191 corridor. Council member Rory Paxman was absent from the meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

McGann, whose motion automatically died when it failed to gain a second vote in support, said the outcome is one of the more disappointing ones she’s experienced during her time on the council.

“I thought it would be close, but it looked like I was the only one in support of it,” she told the Moab Sun News.

But Moab Premier Properties Principal Broker and owner Bryon Walston said he is relieved that the proposal failed to gain traction, telling the Moab Sun News that no one else in his social or business circle supported the idea.

“Everybody I talked to this morning thought it was good news,” Walston said on Wednesday, Dec. 21. “They were pleased that there was no decision.”

The Grand County Planning Commission voted 5-2 in November to forward a recommendation in support of the proposal on to the county council.

As planning commissioners and others reviewed the issue, they considered restrictions within the county’s highest-density zone to preserve space for developments that are tailored to year-round residents’ housing, business and employment needs.

Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine has said that the county understands the economic value of rental properties that are used as overnight accommodations. But it’s ultimately good planning practice to think ahead about the shape that the county wants its southern highway corridor to take in the coming years and decades, he told the Moab Sun News last month.

Walston said he believes that county officials developed the proposal without consulting property owners, developers and others who could have been affected by it. Council members, he said, heard similar concerns loud and clear.

“I think that with the public input they received, they realized it was not the best way to proceed,” he said.

On the other side of the issue, though, just under 100 local residents signed and submitted a petition that called for a moratorium on the approval and construction of new short-term rental units.

“(It would prevent) the southern corridor from turning into one long strip of short-term rental developments and buildings that are usually owned by out of towners who make money off Grand County’s tourist economy and send these dollars out of the county,” petition supporter and Moab resident Donald Leathers said in a letter to the council.

However, neither side was present to comment on the proposal during the council’s Dec. 20 discussion of the issue, and the sight of the council’s deserted chambers came as a surprise to outgoing Grand County Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs.

“I have received quite a few letters from folks, but there was nobody (at the meeting),” Tubbs said. “It’s unusual when there’s a zoning issue that has been controversial … not to have a full house.”

People may have stayed home from the meeting because they’d already voiced their opinions during a Dec. 6 public hearing. Others may have shared their views on the issue in letters or emails to council members – the majority of which opposed the amendments, according to Tubbs.

“Most of the commentary that came from constituents was very much against making that change to the land-use code,” she said.

Tubbs said that she herself may have voted in favor of the proposal if another council member had seconded McGann’s motion.

“I think that this was a serious attempt at delineating some things, (such as) where we want to be as a community in 20 years,” she said.

Still, she said she had reservations about the idea, noting that the planning commission’s recommendation in support of the ordinance was not a unanimous one.

Another key consideration, she said, is that revenue from overnight rentals is an important source of income for local residents who want to supplement their paychecks or bolster their savings.

“What I struggled with is, we do have citizens who want to legitimately make additional income, or secure their retirement, by building homes and operating overnight rentals,” she said.

On the other hand, she said, some overnight rental owners don’t pay commercial impact fees or Transient Room Taxes. Nor do all of them build their projects in line with commercial building codes that are designed to protect public health and safety, she said.

“We have the issue of people sort of bypassing the proper ways of doing this,” she said.

McGann said the proposal would have cracked down on property owners who claim they plan to build primary residences for local citizens, and then turn around and transform them into commercial projects for out-of-towners.

“We had an opportunity to make people more honest when they put shovel to dirt,” she said. “Right now, they can go and pay their impact fees for primary residential (construction) … and then change their minds.”

Although Tubbs is nearing the end of her term, she said she’s hopeful that county officials can find other ways to address the community’s affordable housing needs, as well as code violations and revenue collections from overnight rentals.

“I do think that the planning and zoning department and the planning commission are on the right track by tightening up the land-use code and trying to prevent things from slipping through the cracks,” she said.

Council declines vote on motion to limit new nightly accommodations along 191 corridor

Most of the commentary that came from constituents was very much against making that change to the land-use code.