Michael Liss gives a presentation at the Moab Area Transit Study Committee meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 12. [Photo by Ashley Bunton / Moab Sun News]

Where’s your Main Street?

A rendering of a San Juan County planning concept would develop Spanish Valley Drive into more of a mixed-use “Main Street,” and now people in Grand County are considering the same plan.

Members of the ad-hoc Moab Transit Study Committee met on Wednesday, Sept. 12, and discussed the idea.

In the City of Moab, U.S. Highway 191 turns into Main Street, but south of Moab, the U.S. Highway 191 corridor is primarily zoned for commercial highway development, in both Grand and San Juan counties. The San Juan County concept would create a “Main Street” with homes and small businesses like convenience stores, but it wouldn’t be along U.S. Highway 191 and would instead be along Spanish Valley Drive, also known as the La Sal Loop Road.

Michael Liss, Moab Transit Study Committee chair, talked about San Juan County’s concept with the committee comprised of Joe Kingsley, Moab City Council member Karen Guzman-Newton and Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler.

“What this whole plan is about,” Liss said, “is saying no, no, no — this (U.S. Highway 191) is a regional connector, it’s not Main Street. If you say no, instead, this way — which is Spanish Valley Drive — is our Main Street, it changes everything.”

Joe Kingsley, the committee’s vice chair, admitted during the meeting that he told Liss he doesn’t like the concept, which includes a bus route that would be established to make 1-mile stops along Spanish Valley Drive into Moab. 

In an email on Sept. 14, Kingsley said, “My concern with Michael Liss’s presentation on the Spanish Valley Drive visioning plan is two-fold: first and foremost it is outside our mandate as a committee, as I see it; and secondly, it really needs the Grand County Planning Commission oversight and recommendations. For us to go down this path is a waste of our committee efforts.”

Following the meeting, Kingsley and Liss said the Spanish Valley concept was presented to Zacharia Levine, the Grand County Community and Economic Development director. Levine recommended for Liss to give the presentation to the Grand County Planning Commission.

“I felt the planning commission would be a better place to start his conversation with the county given the commission’s role in the process of future land use planning,” Levine said in a Sept. 14 email. “If the planning commission thinks the idea has merit, they may want to explore it further by expanding the conversation to include more residents or incorporating it into a corridor plan of sorts. Actually, the idea already has a bit of a corollary in the existing future land use plan. There are two ‘rural centers’ identified in Spanish Valley. Neither has come to fruition, but the concept is in the plan.”

The “rural centers” in the Grand County Future Land Use Plan would be similar to the “commercial hubs” in the San Juan County planning concept, as each makes room for neighborhood-scale retail, small businesses, local commercial, local tourism and residential neighborhoods on Spanish Valley Drive.

San Juan County Zoning and Planning Administrator Scott Burton said in a phone conversation on Sept. 13 that in San Juan County there isn’t much of a plan yet to develop Spanish Valley Drive. Nothing has been formally decided, he said, but there are rendition drawings and concepts that are in the early stages of planning.

Liss, in sharing the San Juan County concept, said two changes are occurring now to support the plan, one being that Grand County is going to build a bicycle lane on Spanish Valley Drive to the San Juan County line.

“UDOT is funding part of that,” Guzman-Newton said. 

The second change, Liss said, are future residential developments planned in San Juan County for several thousand people. 

Liss said, “If you look at the San Juan County plan, everyone always stops when they hear 6,000 people. Which is ridiculous because 6,000 people aren’t moving here tomorrow.”

Liss said that there’s a need for the two counties to “plan efficiently for the time when there will be 6,000 more people.”

“[San Juan County] decided no development on 191, it’s brilliant,” Liss said. “Instead they said, our Main Street is Spanish Valley Drive. And then what they said was, every mile on Spanish Valley Drive they have a commercial hub … so, the way San Juan County is going to develop is, (Spanish Valley Drive) is Main Street, there’s no development on 191, there’s two commercial hubs spaced 1-mile apart; at each one there’s a connector taking you back to 191. So my feeling is, we should do it.”


Liss, who is advocating for the creation of an “Arches bus” in the Moab area similar to the bus system between Springdale and Zion National Park, said the issue is where people perceive Main Street is. 

“We don’t even have any conception that there’s a local Main Street (beyond Moab City limits),” Liss said. “If we can see it at first from a transportation point of view, then it can work for the community … If we do it, then the theory is, 191 is for long distance travel; Spanish Valley Drive is for short distance travel.”

The Moab Sun News asked lifetime residents of Spanish Valley Drive in Grand County for their opinions on the future land use concepts and the idea of creating a “Main Street” with “commercial hubs” or “rural centers.”

Dale Holyoak, 89, was driving a scooter on Spanish Valley Drive on Sept. 13. He said he was born in San Juan County and has lived in the Moab area all of his life.

“I was here when it was a cow town,” he said. “Now it’s tourism.”

He said he wasn’t nervous about driving the scooter on the edge of Spanish Valley Drive and said if there was a bicycle lane, “I would use it.”

He would not ride a bus, he added.

“It don’t make a dang what they do — they’re going to do it anyway,” he said. “It’s all right to me, I don’t care what they do. I liked (the area) a lot better when it was little. It’s going to develop whether you like it or not, so it don’t matter.”

Fred Gay, 41, grew up in Moab and lives along Spanish Valley Drive. He also reflected on the area’s growth and said “I liked it way better when it was little.”

“I guess you have to be able to envision it to do it, and I just don’t have a good imagination,” he said. “I don’t know about that. … Like I said, I guess if it’s going to get better, you just have to put up with change.”

He said there is a need for a bicycle lane on Spanish Valley Drive, but said, “I don’t know about bus service, but that’s to each his own.”

Zane Lammert, 60, is a resident of Spanish Valley Drive and is also a lifetime resident.

“It’s a narrow road so it needs a bike path,” he agreed.

Lammert said Spanish Valley Drive “already is Main Street for locals.”

“All the locals use it because when tourist season comes to town you take the back roads,” he said. “That’s what the main back road is. That’s the only one.”

There are no convenience stores along Spanish Valley Drive as it currently sits as a back road. Would he like to see it change into a Main Street with “rural centers” in the future?

Lammert wasn’t agreeable to the concept — he said the planners in the area who are furthering development are “the ones screwing this place up.”

“They don’t like the way California is, so they move to Moab because they love the way Moab is, and they want to change Moab to the way California is,” he said. “If you don’t like it, get your ass out of here because I don’t care — they don’t need to live here.”

Levine said he supports “citizens taking the initiative to bring new ideas to the table for how to proactively plan for and improve development in the county” but said his position on the planning has nothing to do with supporting or opposing an idea.

“It’s often quite difficult to get residents involved in civic processes, so when individuals or groups are willing to step up and present ideas, local governments should listen,” he said. “Local government officials don’t have all the answers, so citizen-planners can bring a lot of value to future planning conversations.”

No formal decisions have been made on conceptual plans to create ‘Main Street’

“If the planning commission thinks the idea has merit, they may want to explore it further by expanding the conversation to include more residents or incorporating it into a corridor plan of sorts. Actually, the idea already has a bit of a corollary in the existing future land use plan. There are two ‘rural centers’ identified in Spanish Valley. Neither has come to fruition, but the concept is in the plan.”