Time is running out for residents to weigh in on two proposals to restrict new bed-and-breakfast operations in the county’s unincorporated areas, but council members are giving themselves another two months to review the matter.
The Grand County Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday, Nov. 21, to extend the current moratorium on new bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) for another 60 days; Rory Paxman was absent from the meeting.
Council members previously approved a six-month moratorium on May 30 that was set to expire this month. The public comment period on possible B&B restrictions will remain open through 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29, and the extension of the moratorium gives the council leeway to consider both proposals in depth.
Grand County Planning Commission members split an even 3-3 on separate recommendations to the county council, although the board ultimately voted unanimously to send both recommendations on to the council for further review.
The first recommendation would preserve the right to own B&Bs in the county’s residential zones, with new conditions attached. Those proposed conditions include annual inspections to ensure that the owners are in compliance with the county’s regulations; a minimum separation of 1,500 feet between new B&Bs and existing ones; and a requirement for owner-occupied and -managed B&Bs, among other things.
The second recommendation would limit new B&Bs to the county’s Overnight Accommodations Overlay Zone along U.S. Highway 191 south of Moab – the clear preference among most citizens who attended a Nov. 21 public hearing on the issue.
Support for more restrictions on B&Bs comes in response to an uptick in the number of operations beyond Moab’s city limits.
While the county approved just a handful of new B&B licenses each year through 2014, that number climbed to eight in 2015, and then more than doubled in a one-year period to 17 in 2016. As more and more B&Bs came online – at least until the moratorium went into effect – county officials said they have experienced a dramatic increase in reports of nuisance-like impacts, such as noise and increased traffic.
Many of those reports have come from people like longtime North Highland Drive resident Tina Brown, who said the use doesn’t belong in unincorporated Spanish Valley’s residential zones.
“We’ve got a number of them already that will be grandfathered in, I am sorry to say,” she said. “What we have is what we’ll put up with.”
It does change the character of the neighborhood when people come to the area to party, Brown said, decrying the example of an existing B&B in her neighborhood that was not owner-occupied, where someone set the backyard on fire.
“It’s like constant spring break with these B&Bs – some B&Bs,” Brown said.
Spanish Valley resident Sharon Brussell has lived in town, but she said she chose a rural residential setting to get away from the hubbub of business and tourism.
“Being able to come home to a place that’s a little bit of a sanctuary from all that is just so critical … It really boils down to a quality-of-life experience,” Brussell said.
Hawks, Wells differ on approaches
Grand County Council chair Jaylyn Hawks, who owns and operates an existing bed and breakfast in Spanish Valley, said she believes that the planning commission’s first proposal would go a long way in alleviating abuses of the county’s regulations.
Hawks said she doesn’t think the county should try to dictate when an owner must be on the property. But she favors other recommendations, such as one suggestion that a buyer would have to wait for five years before he or she “could even think about” renting out a room to visitors.
“That would be a good deterrent,” she said.
In one shift from earlier this year, Hawks said she now supports the idea of creating a 1,500-foot perimeter around new B&Bs in residential neighborhoods.
“A year ago, I would have said, ‘Absolutely no perimeter,’ but looking at the problems that have cropped up, I now agree with that, and I now agree with owner-occupied regulations, as well,” she said.
Hawks said that widely reported issues with noise and on-street parking haven’t been a problem at her own B&B – or another one in her neighborhood. But she said she sympathizes with residents of the Highland Drive and George White Road area, where 26 of the 38 residents who recently commented on the issue live.
“It’s obvious that they are suffering,” she said.
Grand County Council member Curtis Wells said it’s one thing to say that enforcement will fix a problem, and another to actually follow through.
Unlike Hawks, he said he thinks the planning commission’s first option is “not great,” noting the difficulties in enforcing the county’s regulations.
“That’s only as good as our ability to impose those,” Wells said. “And creating just a highly regulatory environment for bed and breakfasts in the county – in a fight that I would say we’re not winning right now – just shifts the burden onto enforcement in the county that could very well end up in a bottomless pit of time and resources, and also adds additional burden to citizens.”
One real challenge, Wells said, is a loophole that some people are using to slip easily through the county’s regulations and market homes as nightly rentals.
Although Wells said he has been optimistic about enforcement, he noted that it’s a labor-intensive, multifaceted task.
“Understanding the rental market like I do, it’s hard to imagine enforcement, given the landscape right now, that’s as sound as it looks on paper,” he said.
Council hears from local residents
Speaking as a private citizen, Grand County Planning Commission vice chair and former Realtor Joe Kingsley spoke in support of the board’s first recommendation, telling the council that a “tremendous” amount of compromise and debate went into it.
If enacted, he said, it would satisfy a mutual objective to eliminate the ability of non-local residents to buy properties in the county solely for the purpose of turning them into overnight rentals.
“What this does is allow the private Moab citizen to continue to be able to have a bed and breakfast, but discourages or prevents a person from out of town either buying or actually building a home for the use of overnight rentals, which has happened,” Kingsley said.
But Highland resident John Covey, who said he doesn’t want to see tourists routinely coming and going through residential neighborhoods like his, questioned the county’s ability to enforce any related regulations.
“Enforcement is just starting, and it’s not effective at this point, and I don’t think it’s going to be effective until there are more people working (on) it,” Covey said. “One part-time person is not going to be able to enforce these regulations, and you’re forcing the residents to complain.”
Moab Realtor Barbara Holcomb said she knows that a certain number of people like to visit B&Bs, and appreciate the ambiance.
“But what we’re finding, coming into our community now, is not people who are just wanting to be able to have people come into their homes, and to be able to tell them about it,” Holcomb said. “The new people coming in and looking at B&Bs are not really looking at B&Bs … They are looking at the best way to make money off our community.”
She and other residents moved into their neighborhoods for the quiet and the peace, Holcomb said, and that’s changed.
“We have a lot more traffic; we have a lot more people coming around,” she said.
For her part, Amanda Wilson had a different perspective than Highland Drive-area residents, telling the council that B&Bs do provide a different type of experience for tourists who come to Moab.
The council would not solve any of the existing problems by limiting new B&Bs to the county’s Highway Commercial Zone, she said.
“All you’re doing is taking away the possibility of a good experience for someone coming in, to give them a good impression of our neighborhoods,” Wilson said. “Because that’s why people do stay at bed and breakfasts: They want to capture the character of the town.”
They’re also a good source of income for a single person in Grand County, she said.
“You don’t have to deal with a roommate for 30 days of the month,” Wilson said. “You can rent out your room (for) a couple weekends a month and make the same amount of money.”
Council to review proposed restrictions from planning commission
The public comment period on the issue is open until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Anyone who would like to submit written comments to the council can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop them off at the council’s office on the west side of the Grand County Courthouse at 125 E. Center St.