Swanny City Park has become the epicenter of special events in Moab – to the consternation of some neighborhood residents, but to the delight of others who welcome the infusion of revenue they bring to the community.
In addition to well-established events like the April Action Car Show and the Moab Arts Festival, the park’s visitor-season calendar is now full of numerous races, concerts and events that require special-use permits from the city. With more and more people flocking to organized events at the park each year, area residents’ complaints about noise, congestion and other impacts on the surrounding neighborhood are also on the rise.
“As the tourist industry has obviously brought good things to the town, it’s also in some ways really reduced the quality of life here,” Park Drive resident Scott Groene told the Moab City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 27. “With the crowding, the fact (is) that there’s places (where) you almost don’t want to take your kids anymore, because it’s not a good place to go.”
Mayor Emily Niehaus said that she enjoys attending events at the city’s parks. But she told council members on Tuesday, March 13, that she would like to see city officials consider measurable standards that govern special events, along with a policy to guide them.
“It’s our job to set policy, and really set the stage for how the permits are brought to us,” she said.
Niehaus asked the council to consider looking at the city’s park-use policy, and then make suggestions to amend it. To start that conversation, she questioned whether the city needs to extend its application deadline for special events.
“The reason I say this is if we require permits to come in at six months (in advance), perhaps we’re beating the clock in terms of advertising and planning, so that if an event that has been planned and advertised comes up for permission … we’re not denying something and putting them in an awkward position,” she said. “So, (it’s) better to set them up for success by having more lead time for permits.”
But Moab Rotary Club member Joe Kingsley is disappointed in the direction that the council appears to be taking on the issue of special events permitting.
Kingsley, whose group recently asked the council to waive a $1,400 city fee for the club-organized April Action Car Show, said he was disappointed that council members ultimately kept the fee in place.
Based on estimates he’s heard, he said, the April Action weekend brings in the highest sales tax revenues of the year, and Moab’s city government benefits from that money.
“It’s so bizarre that you’re killing the goose that’s laying the golden egg,” Kingsley told the Moab Sun News.
A majority of proceeds from the April Action Car Show go to the Moab Free Health Clinic, while the remainder funds scholarships for local students. If the council had approved the $1,400 fee waiver, Kingsley said, that money would have helped a local resident pay for college-related expenses.
“They literally took a scholarship away from a high school student,” he said.
Two meetings after it denied the Rotary Club’s request, the council failed to reach a consensus on special event and special use applications for the TransRockies 5th Annual Moab Rocks mountain bike race at Swanny City Park.
Only three of the council’s five members were present for the March 13 vote, so the council ultimately lacked a supermajority to pass the motion.
Council members Kalen Jones and Mike Duncan voted in favor of the request, while Rani Dersary voted against it. Tawny Knuteson-Boyd was lobbying that day in Washington, D.C., for more Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project funding, while Karen Guzman-Newton was just outside the council chambers when the vote took place.
Derasary told the Moab Sun News on Wednesday, March 14, that she meant to cast a protest vote and did not intend to “kill” the permit. After she realized that the motion failed because of her vote, she said, she asked city officials to bring the permitting issue back to the council’s next meeting on Tuesday, March 20.
Neighbors ask city to consider cumulative impacts of events
At its previous meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27, Groene presented council members with a statement of concern that asks them to consider the cumulative impacts on surrounding neighborhoods before they approve any more events. The request also seeks a freeze on authorized changes to existing events until a mechanism to address those impacts is in place. According to Groene, 45 area residents signed the statement.
Groene has lived across the street from Swanny City Park for a decade, and over the years, he said, it’s become more heavily used. At the same time, he said, the use has changed, bit by bit.
He acknowledged that city officials don’t have much control over some aspects, such as the allocation of Transient Room Taxes on overnight accommodations, or the proliferation of street-legal Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) on city streets.
“I think that means it’s ever more important that you do what you can do for those assets that you manage directly,” he said.
Park Drive resident Wendy Young shared many of Groene’s concerns about changes to the neighborhood around the park.
“It’s already loud,” Young said. “It sounds like the speakers are in our backyard when they have the car show (and) the art festival, and (if a new road) goes through, then we’re going to have traffic and all of the congestion that comes with it, too.”
But Kingsley said he believes that area residents who bought their properties in recent years should know full well that Swanny City Park has long been used as a place for community events. According to Kingsley, the Kerby family donated the land for the park, with the understanding that it would be used for public events; the county later deeded the property to the city.
“That park is not their front yard,” he told the Moab Sun News.
“No one-size-fits-all permit”
The council last revised the city’s special event licensing process in 2017, following meetings with stakeholders and discussions with special event organizers.
Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany encouraged the new council to “immerse” itself in the revisions, and then let him know if there are specific things that anyone wants to change in terms of measurable standards.
“One of the things that I learned from that process is there’s no one-size-fits-all kind of permit,” McAnany said. “There has to be flexibility, and as we’ve learned with all of our ordinances, we can always make them better.”
Jones said he agrees with Niehaus that the city should deal with the permitting issue at a policy level, and have a clear policy in place.
“Because I find debating policy in the context of individual applications awkward,” he said. “I think it’s somewhat disrespectful of applicants.”
Other communities have been grappling with similar issues, Jones noted, so going forward, city officials might look to them to see how their policies have evolved.
Many of the complaints that city officials have received to date are tied specifically to events at Swanny City Park, so Jones wondered if the city’s downtown plan could potentially include a review of that park.
Moab City Manager David Everitt said that plan could be a venue to discuss – in a broader context – whether there are other places in downtown where city officials should plan to provide opportunities for special events.
“(Such as,) should there be a downtown plaza or some other festival plaza space that doesn’t exist now?” he said. “In that context, I think that discussion will happen.”
However, Everitt said he doesn’t know how specific that plan’s authors can be about Swanny City Park.
“My sense is that it might be better to go at it discreetly,” he said. “It’s 90 percent of what we’re talking about when you have issues with events – maybe 97.”
Move comes in response to complaints about noise, congestion at Swanny City Park
(Swanny City Park is) 90 percent of what we’re talking about when you have issues with events – maybe 97.