The Moab City Council voted on Tuesday, Feb. 28, to delay approving or rejecting a conditional use permit for a proposed apartment complex on Mill Creek Drive. In a 5-0 decision, council members agreed that they, the permit applicants, and the public needed more time to review a list of suggested conditions submitted by council member Kalen Jones the morning before the meeting.
The council’s consideration of the permit, which would allow project owner Hogan and Associates to build a 10-building, 196-unit residential complex on a commercially zoned property at 1780 E. Mill Creek Drive, began late in the evening. After a lengthy and contentious vote on the Lionsback Resort project, the council seemed fatigued.
Jones began the discussion with a motion to approve the conditional use permit with the additional conditions he had written, but did not read those conditions aloud.
“I’m not sure if I need to read them all – that seems painful,” he said.
Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany eventually listed the conditions for the audience. They included a landscaping requirement, calling for 15-foot-tall “locally adapted shrubs,” a requirement that garbage and recycling bins be mapped on the site plan and specific standards for exterior lighting color and brightness. Other conditions asked for a revised legal description of the boundary, set out a limit for building height, specified acceptable locations for heating and air conditioning equipment, and mandated “opaque window coverings” for all units.
“Does the applicant have significant concerns or objections to the conditions that have been proposed here?” McAnany asked.
“Well, we’ve just seen ’em,” development partner Mike Bynum replied, “so I have no idea.” He accepted a paper copy of the conditions to review.
“We started in September 2015 and I haven’t seen these till tonight,” he added.
Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart was also seeing the proposed conditions for the first time. So were most of the council members. Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd, noting that she received the list “late in the day,” asked for advice from the city attorney, and council member Heila Ershadi was the first to suggest postponing the discussion until the next meeting.
“I know that this is dragging on and on, and I’m sorry,” Ershadi said, “but we do want to make sure that neighbor concerns are addressed.”
Interim Moab City Manager David Everitt asked the council to review all the conditions “in an expeditious manner,” and with a unanimous vote, discussion was rescheduled for March 14.
In an interview the day after the meeting, Jones acknowledged that submitting his suggestions the morning before the meeting was inconvenient.
“I admit that presenting them that late is unfortunate,” Jones said.
But Bynum’s choice to pursue a project outside the scope of the property’s C-4 “General Commercial” zoning, Jones said, meant that the approval process was always going to be somewhat drawn out.
“He has chosen to engage in a development that has a higher standard of review than if it was a permitted use,” Jones said.
“I wasn’t sure if I was even willing to vote for this,” he added. “Between the last two meetings I decided that the best option that I could come up with was to come up with reasonable conditions that did the best we could for mitigating the impacts of a high-density development in C-4 with very low-density development in a rural zone.”
For the exterior lighting requirements – “shielded and aimed” lights, no brighter than 1.25 lumens per square foot of hardscape – Jones relied on a model ordinance developed by the International Dark-Sky Association and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.
“I’ve been concerned about preserving our dark-sky heritage for a long time,” Jones said. The model ordinance, he said, was “a very well-reviewed consensus document” balancing that concern with functionality.
For other conditions on the list he consulted with the project’s neighbors, including Kara Dohrenwend, owner of Wildland Scapes, a native plant nursery and landscape restoration business. Dohrenwend was the one who suggested planting New Mexico privet – Forestiera neomexicana – around the apartment complex.
“New Mexico privet is one of my favorite plants for screening,” Dohrenwend said. “It’s easy to grow, it’s native… it’s really low maintenance.”
Dohrenwend stressed that she was not recommending plantings for the benefit of her business, but as a way to reduce the impacts on the project’s neighbors.
“This is going to be the densest development in the city of Moab,” Dohrenwend said. “We need density, don’t get me wrong… but I feel like it could be done in a way that doesn’t have to so dramatically affect long-term residents.”
After talking with the state’s Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman, she believes that the conditional use permit will ultimately be granted one way or another.
“If it can’t be denied, it’s become really critical to minimize impacts on neighbors,” Dohrenwend said.
Dohrenwend is still concerned about some aspects of the project proposal, including drainage. She had suggested lowered water-retention basins in the parking lots, based on stormwater collection systems used in California. Jones didn’t include that suggestion in his proposed conditions.
“It’s not quite an accepted way of looking at drainage in engineering circles yet,” Dohrenwend said. “Although I think it would be great.”
Knowing that the development will eventually move forward, Dohrenwend is focused on creating the best compromise given the circumstances.
“I think it comes down to what’s realistic,” she said.
Jones took a similar attitude. His suggested conditions, he said, were “my best effort at a compromise” to “move this project along.”
“It seems like it’s difficult for the council to come up with conditions on the fly verbally,” he said. “I threw those out there as a starting point for discussion.”
“I’m not saying that I wouldn’t vote for it some other way,” he said.
And Bynum, following the council’s vote, also said he’d keep working on a solution.
“We’re disappointed we couldn’t get it concluded tonight,” he said, after a short conference with Reinhart immediately after the meeting, “but we’ll continue to work with the city staff.”
Members seek more time to consider permitting conditions for Mill Creek Drive project
He has chosen to engage in a development that has a higher standard of review than if it was a permitted use.