The Moab City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, July 11, to rezone a portion of this 9.75-acre property at 354 W. Williams Way, just behind the Canyonlands Care Center and Moab Regional Hospital (pictured in the background). The Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah and the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District are proposing to build an affordable housing complex for local seniors on the rezoned land. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

The City of Moab is giving a boost to preliminary plans for an affordable housing development that could provide homes for dozens of local senior citizens.

City Council members voted unanimously on Tuesday, July 11, to approve an ordinance that rezones a 5-acre plot of land for a proposed apartment complex near Moab Regional Hospital and the Canyonlands Care Center.

The Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah (HASU) and the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District (CHCSSD) have teamed up on the project to build apartments for lower-income residents 55 and older.

According to a memo from HASU Executive Director Ben Riley, the proposed apartment complex on district-owned property at 354 W. Williams Way could house about 36 units.

Twenty-nine of those units would be restricted to residents with area median incomes of 50 percent or lower, while seven units would be restricted to those with area median incomes of 80 percent or lower. Moving forward, HASU has commissioned a market study to determine the exact number of units that will meet Federal Housing Finance Agency requirements.

Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison said the project partners’ request for a zone change is just a preliminary step in the city council’s consideration of the overall project, noting that a detailed site-plan review will follow.

“This process is just barely beginning,” Sakrison said.

However, some residents who live in the neighborhood west of Swanny City Park raised concerns about the project’s potential impacts, based on existing city planning documents that show a through street linking the property with Park Drive.

Neighborhood resident Christy Calvin said it appears to her that the road would connect Park Drive to 500 West, and she’s concerned about high volumes of traffic in a small residential area.

“I think it (would) become a really convenient shortcut,” she said.

Resident Wendy Young, who lives on the dead-end side of Park Drive, said that there’s already a lot of traffic in the neighborhood.

Young said that the area used to be open to foot traffic, and after it was closed off a couple of years ago, crime in the vicinity went down significantly. If it’s reopened, she said she’s worried that crime will go up again.

CHCSSD chair Kirstin Peterson said that district officials heard area residents’ main concern about traffic “loud and clear” when the zone change request came before the Moab City Planning Commission.

She emphasized that it will be up to the city – possibly with the fire department’s input – to determine whether a through street should be developed through the property.

“It’s not hinging on the zone change that we’re looking for,” Peterson said. “I mean, if we left the zone as it is and developed that property, my impression was that the city was going to want that connectivity.”

However, Peterson said she doesn’t think that it needs to be a major route through the neighborhood, noting that a busy road would not be a good fit with a senior-living complex.

“Basically, any development there needs an ingress and an egress and … we would love to be able to work with the city and the neighborhoods to create something that accesses the development, but doesn’t create a major thoroughfare through there for non-residents,” she said. “For the type of development that we’re looking for, that’s the last thing we would want … a lot of traffic that’s not part of that neighborhood cruising through there, because it’s not going to be conducive to senior housing.”

Moab City Council member Kalen Jones said he supports the zoning change because it will facilitate higher-density, multi-family development, which is more economical and more affordable.

“The incomes that are being targeted by this project are quite aggressive in terms of the area median income,” he said.

It’s also the first collaborative effort that some local government leaders are pursuing to develop affordable housing for local residents, he said.

“And so that will be a great resource for this community going forward,” he said.

Jones said earlier in the meeting that he believes the property’s neighbors brought up some good points. But regardless of how the property is developed, Jones said, the city’s code does steer development to provide connectivity.

“As anyone who’s tried to drive across town knows, it can be a very circuitous route, and that is just not good design,” he said.

Having said that, Jones said that as the council looks at design standards, it should consider ways to allow flexibility for narrower streets and other traffic-calming measures in order to address neighbors’ concerns.

“Right now, we have minimum street standards which do support a possibly higher level of speed than may be appropriate in that neighborhood, and so I’d like to encourage us to address that for the (Williams Way) development,” he said.

It should also consider the possibility of parking restrictions so that residents aren’t boxed out of their on-street parking spaces, he said.

Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart said his office has already had brief discussions with the housing authority about the issue of a through-road.

“We don’t want to raise traffic (numbers),” he said.

At the same time, though, Reinhart said the city wants to encourage connectivity – for residents’ ease of movement, and because of environmental concerns about increased traffic and air pollution.

“As Kalen mentioned, you don’t want to have people driving all the way around just to visit their neighbor on the back side when there’s no better way to do that than go three blocks out of your way and three back to get to it,” he said.

Resident Shari Beck said earlier that if the city creates a shortcut through the neighborhood, drivers will take it. Any time that there is a special event at Swanny City Park, she said, drivers will head into her neighborhood in search of parking spaces.

Based on similar concerns that city officials have heard, Moab City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd said that council members will likely consider the possibility of limiting the number of special events at the park.

“I think we’ve gotten enough feedback on those bigger events that I hope we are going to possibly look at changing some of those venues so that all of that congestion isn’t impacted in that one neighborhood as much in the future,” Knuteson-Boyd said.

Council approval is first step in process for proposed development

For the type of development that we’re looking for, that’s the last thing we would want … a lot of traffic that’s not part of that neighborhood cruising through there, because it’s not going to be conducive to senior housing.