Citizens filled the Moab City Council chambers at the Dec. 11 meeting as officials reconsidered an ordinance that impacted rentals zoned C2. [Photo by Rachel Fixsen / Moab Sun News]

In response to surprise and dismay expressed by members of the public, Moab City Council added to their Dec. 11 agenda the reconsideration of an ordinance passed at the council meeting on Nov. 13.

Ordinance 2018-01 made changes to the municipal code, removing “conditional” uses, revising definitions and amending allowed uses in certain zoning districts.

The detail that caught citizens off-guard was the removal of a permitted use in the C2 commercial zone. The ordinance omitted lodging establishments of under 10 units as a permitted use in that zone. Owners already exercising their right to use their properties for short-term rentals would have been able to be “grandfathered” into the code, but those who were not exercising that right would lose it, thus lowering the value of their property and removing any possibility of future income from short-term rentals.

Property owners spoke up as soon as they discovered the change. The city’s communication manager, Lisa Church, told the Moab Sun News on Dec. 3 that “it has come to the attention of city administrators and the council that proper public notice likely was not made to remove an allowed use.”

Hans Schneider is an owner at the Entrada townhomes development, which is in C2 zoning. He wrote a letter to Moab City Council members and also sent it to Moab Sun News. He began by thoroughly commending the council for its work on preserving the character of Moab and creating affordable housing solutions. But he expressed strong opposition to ordinance 2018-01.

“The beauty of Entrada is that we are all overnight rentals, so nobody complains about noisy neighbors, parking, and the usual problems that accompany mixed living situations. Why would you seek to create a negative situation that has been prevented by design?” Schneider asked in his letter.“… Limit the number of properties that allow for overnights going forward if you must, but don’t change the rules on those already invested in your community.”

Rachel Moody is a broker at Real Estate Company of Moab. She, too, wrote a letter to the council regarding the ordinance, and appeared at Tuesday night’s meeting to speak directly to the council on behalf of the Cottonwoods at Williams Way Home Owners’ Association, of which she is current president, as a member of the Southeastern Chapter of the Utah Central Association of Realtors.

“The last few weeks have been very stressful and emotional for the stakeholders of C2 properties, to say the least,” Moody began. “I regret the lack of diligence, transparency and fairness that was given to this situation. I will not state that it was intentional, but I will not defend it as unintentional.”

She went on to describe the Cottonwoods at Williams Way complex, a C2 zoned twin-home development with 32 units, established in 2006.

“Our community was engineered, designed and built for flexible-use homes,” Moody said, listing some of those uses as permanent residences, retirement homes and short-term rental units. She noted that property values dropped significantly when the potential to use them for short-term rentals was taken away.

Moody also read a statement from the Association of Realtors.

“It is our opinion that this change does significant harm to the current property owners in these zones,” the statement read in part, referring to C2 properties. “We do not entirely disagree with the city’s desire to regulate short-term rental properties for the benefit of the overall community, but in this case, we believe that a blanket prohibition of lodging establishments in the commercial zone is not a reasonable regulation.”

After reading prepared remarks from those organizations, Moody spoke on her own behalf.

“I agree that the City of Moab is at a turning point, and that we are in need of thoughtful planning for future growth in both our residential and commercial areas,” she said. But she thought it was unfair to change the rules for property owners who may have been counting on the rights that came with the property when they bought it.

“I have a longstanding motto,” Moody said. “Protect your commercial zones as much as you protect your residential zones.”

Moody was followed by several more property owners in C2 zones who echoed her concerns. One citizen expressed her hope that the council would amend the ordinance that night, rather than put it into abeyance, so property owners would not have to wait in suspense.

“‘Devastating’ is a good adjective,” said one C2 property owner of the recent ordinance.

Another citizen explained how he and his wife had purchased a small C2 property on Center Street, had been renting out the existing building, and planned on building another overnight rental unit on it to help support their retirement. He said the ordinance had decreased the value of the property by as much as $200,000 to $300,000.

“I’m over 60 years old,” he said. “My wife and I will never recover [financially]. Please consider carefully what you’re doing here. This has a dramatic effect on people’s lives.”

One speaker warned the council that “changing the property zoning overnight sets a really bad precedent … nobody’s going to want to invest in a town where it’s just changed like that, overnight.”

Though the speakers were chagrined by the ordinance and asserted their opposition eloquently, the atmosphere at the meeting was civil and orderly. Even one of the most poignant speakers began his remarks by acknowledging the council’s work, before going on to explain how ordinance 2018-01 had resulted in a real loss for him. Scott Howard owns one of the townhomes in the Entrada development.

“Thank you for your service to the community,” he said. “I know it can be a thankless job. I notice a lot of people are saying things like, ‘my property value has dropped, this is going to have an affect on us.” Those sound academic — but they’re not for me.”

Howard is trying to sell his unit. He said that he had a buyer under contract, but the buyer backed out of the deal after learning of the ordinance.

“What you did has had a big impact on me and my family,” Howard told the council.

After all citizens to be heard had spoken, the council’s first order of business was to reconsider ordinance 2018-01. City officials admitted the ordinance was passed quickly, but did not spend time talking about what their original intention was, offered no explanation behind their reasoning or how the ordinance was quickly passed with little oversight of how it would impact C2 rentals.

“I think it’s clear that we may have acted a little bit in haste, and in the interest of transparency and better consideration of all interests concerned, I think it’s important that we reconsider this ordinance,” said council member Kalen Jones.

Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus noted that the council had already acknowledged that the council had probably not given adequate public notice of the change before passing the ordinance.

The council voted to reconsider the ordinance, and immediately after adopted a revised version that included overnight lodging as a permitted use for establishments of ten units or less in the C2 zone.

Council member Karen Guzman-Newton assured citizens in attendance that the council had been  acting in sincerity.“We are in this together,” she said. “I promise, none of us were trying to … ‘screw over’ anyone, to say it lightly.”

Niehaus used the occasion to solicit the need for planning commission members. She specifically addressed the real estate experts in attendance, saying the council needs their advice.

“The plea is real,”she said. “I need somebody to step up from that community.”

Property owners in C2 zones protest deleted use in municipal code

“I think it’s clear that we may have acted a little bit in haste.”