Moab City Council and planning commission members discuss development and housing during a joint meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27. [Photo by Rachel Fixsen / Moab Sun News]

City of Moab residents are feeling the pressure of affordable housing plans for the city, with one city council member demonstrating with a doll to show the concern he said is felt by some members of the community.

In the memorandum announcing a joint Moab City Council and Moab City Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27, Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus wrote that the purpose was to discuss rapid growth and development. However, council and planning commission members quickly zeroed in on the Planned Affordable Development draft the planning commission approved this fall and sent to the council to review, amend if they choose to and vote upon. The council is still debating details of the draft.

Planned Affordable Development (PAD) is designed to encourage more units of affordable housing in the City of Moab. Successful PAD applicants would be able to build residential units in higher density within existing residential zones, as long as 80 percent of those units provide affordable housing options. The plan has strong advocates and critics among the citizens of Moab, with some saying the city must take immediate action to alleviate housing needs, and others concerned about preserving the character of their neighborhoods and a possible threat that higher density could pose to public health and safety. There are also strong feelings regarding the issue among Moab City Council and Moab City Planning Commission members.

The meeting was facilitated by planning commission member Marianne Becnel. She tried to pre-empt conflict by reminding everyone that they are trying to find solutions as a team, and she implored participants to be constructive in their remarks.

The meeting was organized into two sessions, with the first hour devoted to identifying problems and concerns, and the second hour to proposing and discussing solutions. One concern was that the PAD would allow unchecked development and a rapid and extreme shift to higher density. Planning commission members clarified that existing building codes would still apply, and the PAD specifies setback requirements and parking space requirements for new units. Developers would have to go through an application process before they could build. These limits and requirements are intended to mitigate the pace, location and standards of new developments.

A specific residential zone, R2, was identified as a “sticking point” in the draft. Some council members wanted more specific language limiting density within the R2 residential zone, which is currently designated as “single family” or “single household” homes. Council member Mike Duncan said he has heard “pushback” against the proposed ordinance from residents of R2 zones.

“Some of it is warranted and some of it is not,” Duncan said of the concerns from R2 residents. Duncan said he is in favor of the PAD concept, but wants there to be more consideration of specific issues that could affect R2 neighborhoods. For example, the PAD requires a certain number of parking spaces per bedroom, but Duncan said street parking will still be under strain, because people living in small units are likely to use their designated off-street parking at or over capacity, which could include storing vehicles and equipment. He suggested that a minimum street width be required for a neighborhood to be eligible for PAD developments, ensuring that traffic could still flow between cars parked on both sides. He also suggested a rule allowing only one “bed and breakfast” business within a certain radius, and said that nearby traffic patterns should be considered when identifying areas appropriate for higher density housing.

Duncan brought a visual aid to demonstrate the pressure he was experiencing from concerned city citizens. He set a small vise onto the desktop and put a felt doll between the plates. “What to do, what to do, what to do?” he asked as he tightened the vise on the doll, representing the increasing unrest of his constituents.

Planning Commission members pointed out that there are “traffic study triggers” within the PAD draft — for larger developments, a traffic study is required.


Other meeting participants were troubled that the R2 zone was the focus of so much concern. Planning commission member Kya Marienfeld noted that if R2 zones were excluded from the PAD, a large proportion of the City would be excluded.

“We don’t want to create a slum district in our community,” Marienfeld said, meaning that affordable housing should be integrated throughout the city, not concentrated and squeezed into an “undesirable” location. She emphasized that people struggling with housing are contributing members of the community.

“These aren’t the ‘other’— these are us,” she said, as she referenced people living out of vehicles, on public land or on friends’ couches.

Marienfeld also questioned why density limits and design standards were being advocated specifically for R2 zones, rather than for the whole city. She anticipated critics describing the scenario as wealthy members of the community “protecting their neighborhoods” from lower-income earners.

“That feels … icky, for lack of a better word,” she said. Instead, she suggested considering the concerns raised by R2 residents in the creation of city-wide ordinances, saying all residents deserve to have their viewsheds, parking, dark skies, and quiet residential areas protected, no matter their income or value of their property.

Becnel reminded meeting participants that increased housing density does not necessarily mean increased population density.

“We’re not trying to encourage people to move here,” she said. “We’re just trying to accommodate the people who are already here, in healthier situations.”

Moab City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd, when asked by mayor Niehaus where she stood on the proposed draft, said she would vote in favor of the PAD. Council member Kalen Jones said he is in favor of the PAD concept, but would like to see more research on whether the percent of affordable housing required from developers is realistic. Council member Karen Guzman-Newton said she liked the idea of the PAD, but echoed some of Duncan’s concerns about preserving R2 neighborhoods. Council member Rani Derasary said she was not yet ready to vote on the issue.

A town hall meeting on the PAD is scheduled for Dec. 11, where citizens will have a chance to raise their questions and concerns with the Moab City Council. Officials said the PAD will not be sent back to the city’s planning commission, as it’s up to the council to get to a draft they are willing to vote on, and then pass or not pass that draft. However, the planning commission has invested many hours of time, research and debate into the plan, and will continue to put energy into the discussion. Mayor Niehaus suggested for council members to “buddy up” with commission members to take advantage of their familiarity with the ordinance and clarify areas of concern or confusion in the draft. The two bodies will hold another joint meeting in January or February 2019.

Council member puts doll in vise to illustrate issue

“We’re not trying to encourage people to move here. We’re just trying to accommodate the people who are already here, in healthier situations.”