Spanish Valley resident Ken Kolb raised concerns about the impacts that a proposed housing development on Spanish Valley Drive could have on the surrounding area. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

If Grand County can work out a written agreement that guarantees the development of affordable housing on a 20-acre Spanish Valley property, at least one county council member might be more inclined to support the developers’ plans for the land.

Salt Lake City residents Danielle and Dave Pope are seeking a zoning change that would allow them to build up to 7.5 units per acre on Judy and Gary Carmichael’s alfalfa field and horse pasture at 3552 Spanish Valley Drive. The Popes have repeatedly said that they want to build affordable housing for local residents, but under the zoning change they’ve applied for, they are not required to follow through on those verbal assurances.

To prevent the development of overnight rentals on the property, Grand County Council member Chris Baird wants to explore the legality of a master-plan development agreement that would commit the Popes to their stated plans for the project.

“I think that that is worth a shot,” Baird said during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7. “… If we’re able to do it in other circumstances, I’m not entirely sure why it wouldn’t make sense in this one.”

Right now, Baird said, the only conventional way the council can guarantee affordable housing on the property is if the developers applied for a Large-Lot Residential zoning designation, and then committed to building the maximum number of affordable housing units there.

“I guess the issue is that you’re on the hook then legally to do affordable housing, whereas if we grant the rezone that’s proposed, there’s no requirement whatsoever for affordable housing,” he said.

Danielle Pope said that she and Dave Pope are receptive to the idea, adding that they’ll sign whatever documents they can in order to prove that they’re committed to affordable housing.

“I’m sure plenty of people have come in here and said things and then it hasn’t worked out … so I totally understand where you guys are coming from,” she said.

While they’re seeking higher densities that could lead to the development of somewhere between 80 to 130 residential units, Danielle Pope reiterated that the project would in no way resemble the nearby Rim Village condo development.

“That is not what we want to do; that is not our vision at all,” she said.

Moving forward, Baird said he plans to ask Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald for his legal opinion on a master-plan development agreement.

For his part, though, Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine told the council that contract zoning is expressly illegal in Utah.

“You cannot rezone a property based on the requirement that once the rezone is granted, a certain development comes to fruition,” Levine said.

If a contract zoning case ever came before a judge, Levine predicted that the county would not be able to hold a developer liable for developing a specific proposal.

Proposal is second housing plan for Carmichael property

The previous county council voted 4-3 in January 2016 to reject an earlier zone change request for the same property, and many of the concerns that council members heard last year resurfaced this week.

Levine said his chief concern about the application is that the county’s Future Land-Use Plan map doesn’t support the proposed rezone from Rural-Residential to Small-Lot Residential.

“That (map) isn’t a binding document, but it is our best barometer for what type of development should take place where,” he said.

Properties in the area can and should be developed at densities that are higher than the one unit per acre that is currently allowed under the rural-residential zoning designation, Levine said.

“Of course, what those densities should be is a community conversation, and to that effect, I am again hesitant to support rezones that run counter to the Future Land-Use Plan map,” he added.

Levine said he also has concerns about the latest project’s development capacity, as well as the Popes’ commitment to a particular vision of the development. He noted that some plans called for trailers, while others included single-family stick-built houses and an overnight rental component.

“We haven’t gotten a consistent vision,” he said.

Danielle Pope told the council that their plans have changed based on the feedback they’ve received, and she emphasized that they have dropped any reference to overnight rentals from their current proposal.

“We have cut that out of our plan,” she said.

The development would include rental and lease options, she said, as well as options to purchase homes and land on the property.

“It’s a solid strategy to help get and keep new members of the community,” Pope said. “We believe that we offer a viable option for those looking to make Moab their home.”

Council hears mixed reactions to proposal

A majority of Grand County Planning Commission members voted last month to recommend that council members reject the Popes’ application, and 10 local residents submitted letters against the rezone request.

Grand County Council member Curtis Wells said he believes the letter writers are “more or less” dictating how property owners and fellow citizens should develop their particular projects, or what they should do on their own land.

“But it is a concern to me … for us to have to rely on a handshake – that you guys are of course going to follow through (with affordable housing), because if this property is packaged and flipped to another entity, the economics can vastly and drastically improve with the change of the business model,” Wells said. “And then, at that point, what happens to the citizens that are living in the housing?”

One of those letter writers – Spanish Valley resident Ken Kolb – lives about a quarter-mile from the proposed development. He said he values the surrounding area for its rural character, and most residents out there share that sentiment, he said.

“Personally, I would prefer Spanish Valley to remain Rural-Residential forever, rather than allowing peace and tranquility to be eroded by continuing approval of high-density developments of any sort,” he said during a public hearing on the Popes’ request.

Kolb raised concerns about the potential impacts that the proposed development could have, in terms of increased traffic and noise, as well as the greater demands it could place on the area’s infrastructure.

As things stand, he said, the Popes are asking the council to approve their request without any guarantee that the expected outcome of affordable housing will be met. The documents he’s seen made no mention of deed restrictions, rent control or the number of homes that would be reserved for local residents, he said; nor is there a binding legal document to hold the applicants accountable to their promises.

If, for some reason, the sale of the Carmichael property doesn’t go through, then the future owner is not obligated to comply with any agreements made prior to the zoning change, Kolb said.

“Given the potential for problems, not only in regard to this upzone, but any upzone, it makes absolutely no sense whatsover to grant the upzone without having some form of clear-cut, well-defined, enforceable guarantee for affordable housing that is attached to the land and would be applicable to current and future landowners,” he said.

Moab Realtor LuDean Merritt spoke in support of the Carmichaels’ property rights, while touting their commitment to resolving Grand County’s affordable housing woes.

“It’s not fair for people to be able to tell them what to do with their 20 acres, but they want to help,” she said.

Speaking as a private citizen, Grand County Planning Commission vice chair Joe Kingsley said he understands residents’ concerns that the proposed units could be converted to overnight rentals: As a former Realtor, he’s seen similar things happen “more than once.”

“It upsets me to the core,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been had.”

But Kingsley urged the council to follow Baird’s suggested course of action. If there’s a legal way to hold the developers accountable, he said, the Carmichael property is the right place for affordable housing.

“It will fit in this place perfectly,” he said.

Baird, others want assurances that project won’t give way to overnight rentals

We believe that we offer a viable option for those looking to make Moab their home.

Written comments on the Popes’ zone change request will be accepted through Wednesday, Feb. 15. Comments can be emailed to, or dropped off at the council administrator’s office, 125 E. Center St.