Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine and Planning and Zoning Administrator Mary Hofhine review proposed future land-use maps that designate areas where increased-density zoning could be allowed as an incentive for affordable housing. [Photo by Eric Trenbeath / Moab Sun News]

Grand County is seeking public input on future land-use regulations that would incentivize affordable housing development through increased density, flexibility in design and site plan requirements, and potential fee waivers.

The county will host a series of open house meetings where the public can view draft future land-use maps and regulations for areas that are proposed for eligible projects. Meetings will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 16, from noon to 2 p.m.; and Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Grand County Courthouse chambers, 125 E. Center St.

Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine said that the open houses are planned so the public can provide feedback on future land use in the county.

“We realize that land-use regulation, and density in particular, are sensitive subjects for residents,” Levine said. “We’re doing the best we can to gauge the pulse of what the community wants and present solutions that are informed by, and acceptable to, people with differing perspectives.”

Levine said that the maps were prepared with the planning commission under the directive of the county council, as part of the county’s affordable housing plan that was adopted earlier this year. If approved, Levine said the maps wouldn’t be binding, but they would serve as guiding documents for future zone change requests.

“If a developer comes in and requests a zone change it would still not be an automatic yes,” he said. “Ultimately, the council has the final say.”

Zone changes have become a frequent request from developers and property owners who seek to increase home density in order to raise the value of their property. In some cases, property owners have expressed a commitment to build affordable housing. But with no guarantee in place, the county council has largely rejected requests for increased density zoning.

Community Rebuilds director and founder Emily Niehaus said she thought that there was starting to be agreement on policy around affordable housing and said that “density is currency.”

Community Rebuilds is a nonprofit organization that uses volunteer interns to build affordable, straw bale homes, while providing a unique education in energy efficient construction.

“An affordable housing requirement is a fair trade for an increase in density,” Niehaus said. “But the county must ensure that agreements are in place to preserve and protect any affordable housing developments that receive any density increases.” 

Levine said that after the maps are approved, the next step would be to adopt high-density development overlays for the current zoning map with stipulations that guarantee the construction of affordable housing.

“This is an attempt to balance higher densities with incentives and solutions for one of Moab’s most critical needs – affordable housing,” Levine said.

Moab and Grand County have been grappling with a lack of affordable housing for more than a decade due to a proliferation of second homes, nightly rentals and Moab’s status as a resort town.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a family’s income. Among moderate- to lower-income families, 44 percent who own homes are “cost burdened,” or are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, while 60 percent of the renters fit into this category.

Grand County Council member Evan Clapper, who serves as the council’s liaison to the planning commission, said that density increases are a strong tool that the county can use to help solve the affordable housing problem.

“Personally, I can’t sit by and watch folks get priced out of town,” Clapper said. “Doing too little has gotten us to where we are now. There have been some commendable accomplishments made by the private sector but not enough to curb the widespread rapid rise in housing costs. I expect the government to look out for citizens’ best interests.”

Clapper said that Grand County has been changing at an unexpected pace and it’s necessary to plan accordingly through the future land-use plan. He pointed out that the maps are just drafts, at the beginning of a multi-step democratic process. 

“I encourage everyone to pay attention and to participate,” Clapper said. “I’m hopeful that as a community, we can come together to create a vision and make a plan.  These open houses are the best way we know how to accomplish that goal.”

Grand County Council member Curtis Wells told the Moab Sun News that he thinks local government can be an effective contributor to affordable housing solutions in the community but said “how that happens and what tools are used” are the debate.

“I’m a strong supporter of incentives and deregulation,” Wells said. “I’d like to see some more commonsense approaches like increased density and allowing for three or four story housing developments.”

Moab Premier Properties Associate Broker and Realtor Tom Shellenberger said that density increases for lands that qualify are a good idea. He said lands that are the most eligible are those close to town, and with good access to transportation corridors, including bike paths.

“Anything the county can do to help is a good thing,” Shellenberger said.

Shellenberger said that easing restrictions and increasing density makes affordable housing more palatable to developers who still need to make a profit.

“That’s the way we’ll get affordable housing,” Shellenberger said. “Make it a positive thing for the county and for the developer.”

Levine said that proposed incentives such as increased density, and decreased restrictions were designed to give developers the opportunity to make high density, affordable housing developments work.

Levine said he knows there are people on both ends of the spectrum – from those who want to see maximum density with no restrictions, to those who don’t want any density increases. But he said that most of the feedback he has received so far comes from the middle.

“A lot of people seem to be willing to accept increased density if it serves a community need,” Levine said. “We’re hoping we can find a balance that will reflect the needs of the community.”

Three public open houses to be held at courthouse

What: Grand County Planning Commission public open houses

When: Wednesday, Aug. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 16, from noon to 2 p.m.; and Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Grand County Courthouse chambers, 125 E. Center St.

Information: 435-259-1371;

A lot of people seem to be willing to accept increased density if it serves a community need. We’re hoping we can find a balance that will reflect the needs of the community.