Developers Danielle and Dave Pope say they hope to build affordable housing on this 20-acre alfalfa field and horse pasture off Spanish Valley Drive south of Moab. The Grand County Council previously rejected a proposed rezone that another developer sought to build as many as 70 homes on the property. [Moab Sun News file photo]

The need for affordable housing in an increasingly expensive housing market is a common one, and developers Dave and Danielle Pope say they are committed to addressing an issue that affects them personally.

“I have a relative who is a state trooper, and they said they can’t stay after they do a stint in Moab,” Danielle Pope said. “They can’t keep highway patrolmen, because they can’t afford the house. Moab is missing out on hardworking members of the community because no one can afford to stay there.”

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the Grand County Planning Commission held a public hearing on the Popes’ proposal to rezone a 20-acre property in the 3500 block of Spanish Valley Drive for a 20-unit housing development. The hearing took place almost exactly one year after the Grand County Council denied a rezone designation for the same property, which owners Gary and Judy Carmichael have owned and farmed for more than 40 years.

When the previous proposal came before the planning commission and county council, residents expressed 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 new infrastructure. Others, however, applauded the developers’ efforts in trying to alleviate Moab’s housing issues.

Grand County Planning and Zoning Administrator Mary Hofhine said the planning commission voted to send an unfavorable recommendation to the county council on the latest proposal.

The commission based its decision, she said, on the fact that the proposed rezone is not supported by the Future Land-Use Plan, as identified in the county’s 2012-era General Plan.

Area residents still have mixed feelings about rezoning the property, and in order to alleviate their anxieties, the Popes say they are planning to use the land to build affordable housing.

The Carmichael property in Spanish Valley is currently zoned as Rural Residential, essentially allowing a density of one single-family home per acre.

However, it’s adjacent to the much-denser Rim Village townhome development, which was rezoned in the 1970s before the county’s land-use code was adopted in 1998.

“The problem is when you rezone to a higher density, the applicant is free to do whatever they want to do,” Grand County Planning Commission vice chair Joe Kingsley said. “(The Pope family) presentation was vague. We need affordable housing, and the letter that she sent said, ‘We might do this we might do that.’ She even left the window open for overnight rentals. We are saturated with homes that could be permanent that are being used as overnight rentals.”

Kingsley, a longtime county Realtor who recently retired, said that in the past few years, the commission has been “blindsided” by people who say they’re going to build long-term housing.

“Then, before the shovels even hit the ground, they’re advertising it as overnight rentals,” he said.

Kingsley cited the Cottonwood condos across from Moab Regional Hospital as one example of homes that have been converted to overnight rentals.

“I think there are 24 of them,” he said. “When we were selling those, 100 percent of them were owner-occupied. Today, two are owner-occupied. Because of the zoning there, someone figured out that overnight rentals can be done, and in a period of about six years, there’s only two owners there.”

The Popes’ plan to develop the property is contingent upon the zone change.

“There can only be one property per acre,” Danielle Pope said. “We’re open to different options. There will be (a homeowners association) that will keep the integrity of the development. We would like for the entire community to be uniform. If we decide that they’re going be single-family homes, they’ll all be single-family. If we decide they’re modular homes, then they’re all going to be modular.”

In past discussions about the previous proposal for the Carmichael property, Grand County Council member Chris Baird said that 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,” he said.

Some county residents, especially in Spanish Valley, don’t want to see Grand County grow more urbanized, which can, in turn, influence planning commission decisions like the one on the Popes’ proposed rezone.

“There’s no place else to go where you can afford to develop affordable housing,” Danielle Pope said, referring to Spanish Valley. “They’re paralyzed to make change. They know it’s going to come, but they’re almost paralyzed and can’t make that decision.”

Hofhine said the applicants have not gotten back to her regarding their decision to go forward to the county council. 

“I sent them a follow-up from the meeting requesting that they should let me know if they would like to go to the council meeting with an unfavorable recommendation, so I can advertise,” she said.

The county council is scheduled to review the Popes’ proposal on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and Danielle Pope said they’re hoping to go to the meeting with a new plan to help council members make their decision.

“We’re not giving up,” she said. “This is something that the Moab residents deserve. We’re going to move forward in any way we can to make this happen. We’re willing to work with the county and address all of their concerns. We hope they’re willing to work with us.”

With an already large and growing number of overnight rentals in Moab, the county is taking measures to mitigate the problem. Among other things, it recently approved a $20,000 budget request to pay for a part-time code enforcement officer, whose duties will include investigating illegal overnight rentals.

“We estimate there’s over 100 nightly rentals in Moab that are being done illegally,” Kingsley said. “They’re collecting the Transient Room Tax and they don’t pay it. The staff of the Grand County Planning Commission and the travel council are working together and finding steps to solve this problem.”

According to Kingsley, overnight rentals benefit from lower standards and lower fees.

“(Pope) needs to have a more definitive committed plan,” he said.

Board advises against proposed rezone