This vacant lot at 1001 N. 500 West is part of a much larger property that KM Real Estate Enterprises, LLC wants to annex into the Moab city limits. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

After they received numerous comments for and against a proposal to annex an unincorporated property into the city limits, Moab City Council members are giving themselves two months to review the applicants’ request.

Council members had been expected to vote in November on KM Real Estate Enterprises, LLC’s plans to annex a 10-acre property at 963 N. 500 West and 1001 N. 500 West into the city limits. However, two of the council’s members said they won’t be present for that meeting. While outgoing council member Kyle Bailey suggested they could schedule a vote for next week, the council ultimately agreed on Tuesday, Oct. 10, to add the item to its Dec. 12 agenda.

The property begins near the intersection of U.S. Highway 191 and 500 West, and runs west, following a narrow panhandle shape that is just 200 feet wide and about 2,178 feet long. It’s currently zoned Rural-Residential and is home to an uninhabitable single-family residence, as well as a small business office and a large metal building that commercial and industrial businesses have used since the 1950s.

The first change – to the eastern 3-acre portion of the property – would designate the area a C-4 General Commercial Zone; an R-4 Manufactured Housing Residential zoning designation would be applied to the western 7 acres, where much of the property lies adjacent to the Palisades Subdivision.

Co-applicant Kelly Shumway said during an Oct. 10 public hearing that the proposal is in line with the city’s vision, noting that the development of workforce housing is a priority for the city. In light of the city’s current housing shortfall, she said, the proposed R-4 zone would accommodate high-density housing.

“An increase in available housing is necessary to stabilize property values, and high-density workforce housing is not even possible without the appropriate zone,” she said.

Right now, she said, their property is commercial-industrial.

“And we have the option to continue to use it in (unincorporated) Grand County,” Shumway said.

The proposed annexation itself has not been controversial to date. However, neighborhood residents and others have voiced concerns about the zoning changes that Kelly and Mike Shumway are seeking.

Among other things, they have questioned whether the proposed General Commercial zoning change could clear the way for the development of a hotel on a portion of the property.

Neighborhood resident Jerry Shue said he’s concerned that Kelly Shumway spoke entirely about the residential housing aspect of the proposal, without offering any details about the plans for the proposed General Commercial end of the property.

“I didn’t hear any justification for the commercial side of it,” Shue said.

Speaking as a private citizen, Moab City Planning Commission member and neighborhood resident Allison Brown noted that the city’s general plan does not include any language in support of an affordable hotel plan.

“It includes an affordable housing plan, and anybody that you talk to is going to say, ‘We need more housing,’” Brown said. “And this is the council’s chance to bring land into the city and treat it as housing, and not as another commercial development.”

Physical therapist Rhonda Cowern, who lives in the neighborhood, said that she would be the most affected by a General Commercial zoning designation.

Cowern said she agrees with the Shumways’ annexation request, and supports less-dense R-3 residential zoning for more local housing – but not a zone change for what she called “a property owner’s profit.”

The council received nearly two dozen postcards in support of the Shumways’ request. Red Cliffs Lodge owner Colin Fryer also joined in, writing that he can’t think of a property that’s better suited to help solve Moab’s affordable housing shortage.

“It’s a property that has been dirty commercial for many years and now finds (itself) a perfect fit for affordable housing,” Fryer wrote. “If not this property then what? If not now, when?”

But the overwhelming majority of citizens who spoke during the council’s Oct. 10 public hearing urged the council to reject the General Commercial zoning proposal. Some of them also asked council members to downgrade the proposed zoning for the western section of the property, from R-4 to less-dense R-3 residential zoning.

“With this annexation, the council has the authority to zone as they see fit,” Westwood Avenue resident Russell Facente said.

Facente noted that Dr. Ray Andrew previously spoke to council members about the need for housing, telling them that due to the lack of housing, he can’t hire and keep the employees he needs.

“That is something that this commercial zone will only make worse,” Facente said.

C-4 zoning will only increase the current problems that the city is facing, Facente said, such as increased groundwater usage, waste treatment, growth, traffic and noise encroaching on residential neighborhoods. At the same time, he said, it wouldn’t do anything to help address the housing situation.

As always with zoning, Facente said, officials have to anticipate the worst-case scenario when they’re reviewing a proposed zoning designation.

“It’s the maximum that could be allowed, and when folks are asking for new zoning, they’re going to aim for the fences,” he said. “They’re going to go big.”

Cowern said that as a physical therapist, she has seen an increase in stress- and work-related injuries in the past year. The more that she gets to know those patients, she said, she finds that the origin of the injuries tends to be the same: They’re surrounded by short-term and vacation rentals, increased noise levels and growing work demands.

“As we continue to inundate our residential areas with vacation rentals and commercial zoning, I feel we’re killing our community spirit, when you take your home – your place of rest, your place of rejuvenation – and you take that away,” she said. “The community doesn’t see the tourist as a viable income source. We kind of perceive them as a nuisance – an irritant – and I feel more than ever that anger instead of kindness is spreading.”

Kelly Shumway noted that the city currently faces a lack of housing, as well as exponential increases in housing prices and land values. More and more people are using campers and RVs as dwellings, she said, because they can’t find other housing, while business owners are purchasing single-family homes and using them as rentals for their employees.

“So with that, we have a rapidly increased … single-family housing price going up,” she said. “And it’s also causing more street congestion in our neighborhoods, because often, you have two or three employees with three and four vehicles, so (there is) a lot of parking on the street and that kind of thing … We also have an increased impact on services in the city without taxation.”

Surveyor Tim Keogh, who is assisting the Shumways with their annexation petition, noted that the city’s general plan encourages infill and denser housing as a way to create affordable housing.

The R-4 zone that his clients are seeking would accomplish that goal with greater densities and several different available types of housing, he said. In addition, he said, the zone would provide a good transition between the adjacent R-2 residential zone to the C-2 zones to the north and east.

“It should be noted that the petitions signed by many of the adjacent neighbors spoke in favor of the R-4 zone as a reasonable transition zone,” he said.

The proposal would also bring the property into compliance with zoning regulations, he said.

“For 60-plus years, the property has been a nonconforming use,” he added.

Some neighbors voice concerns about proposed commercial zoning of property