Grand County is moving forward with high-density housing.
The county’s High Density Housing Overlay, which has been under discussion for months, was approved by the Grand County Council with a vote of six to one.
The High Density Housing Overlay (HDHO), under specific guidelines, allows for density exceeding the county’s existing zoning codes, with the intention of encouraging the construction of more housing to meet the area’s needs.
The council meeting immediately followed a two-hour workshop with the council and the Community and Economic Development Department that made changes to the overlay plan.
Significant changes made to the plan in the workshop include a reduction in the permitted density, height restrictions and a sunset clause.
The reduction in maximum height allowance was amended from four stories to three stories in some parcels.
A sunset clause requires the council to reassess the measure after two years, or after 300 units have been built using the overlay, whichever occurs first.
Moab resident Nancy Fitzgerald attended the meeting as a citizen to be heard.
She cautioned the Grand County Council to move carefully, saying they lack an overall vision to guide their actions.
“Without a thoughtful, formalized vision, I think smaller steps is responsible,” Fitzgerald said. “A larger, overreaching plan has potential damage to existing neighborhoods. … If you do pass an overlay this extensive, you won’t be able to undo it.”
Fitzgerald said everyone is “on board with affordable housing, but let’s plan it.”
No other citizens came forward to comment on the plan during the workshop.
Just before the vote on the HDHO during the council meeting, council member Curtis Wells praised the measure.
“I think this is going to be the most significant thing that either the county, or the city, or anybody in the region is doing to address affordable housing,” he said. “And it’s an incentive-based approach, it’s a free market approach. I want to commend this office for the time they’ve put in.”
As the HDHO passed six to one, only council member Jaylyn Hawks voting against it. Hawks said she supports the plan, but that more discussion is needed.
“I don’t think it’s adequately addressed the concerns that citizens have brought before us,” she said.
After months of discussion and tweaking, council members were clearly proud and relieved to have reached a plan they could pass.
Grand County Council chair Evan Clapper let out a “Yay!” as council members and some audience members clapped in celebration of the approval.
During the public presentations section of the meeting, housing representatives from the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments presented its Housing Rehab Program for elderly, disabled and low-income households, which gives grants and low-interest loans for major home repairs and modifications.
HONEYBEES AND RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
Among the evening’s agenda topics for presentation were reports from the Grand County honeybee inspector and a new citizen-led group called Moab Area Responsible Recreation and Tourism.
Bee inspector Jerry Shue delivered his annual report on the state of bees in the county — their population, health and the presence of Africanized bee genes in some honey bees collected and analyzed across the county.
Representatives from Moab Area Responsible Recreation and Tourism, or MARRT, said they held their first meeting in December and sent representatives to Tuesday’s council meeting to report on their mission, ideas and progress.
The group plans to partner with “on-the-ground” local land managers and agencies to create education initiatives designed to target visitors at trailheads, public restrooms and campsites. The representatives said they plan to work with the Moab Area Travel Council to further their outreach to visitors in the community.
CITIZENS, COUNCIL MEMBERS DEBATE PAY RAISE
Nearly three hours into the meeting, there were still two dozen citizens waiting for a specific discussion item on the agenda: the Grand County Council’s pay raise that was approved on Dec.18.
The raise brought the council members’ salaries from $11,651 to $31,000, with the council chair salary increasing to $36,425. The changes have caused a stir among some members of the public.
Grand County Council member Rory Paxman, who was absent from the meeting in which the raise was passed on Dec. 18, began by saying that he is not in favor of the raise. He brought the topic up to suggest the motion to make the pay increase be rescinded in a future meeting.
“I don’t think it’s correct. I don’t think it’s wise,” he said.
He proposed, instead, a 2 percent cost-of-living raise.
A debate then opened up between council members Paxman and Curtis Wells, with Wells saying that the raise was long overdue and was necessary to encourage more candidates to run for county council. Paxman said that the decision to increase its pay should be up to the future council that will eventually be put into place with the changes implemented under House Bill 224.
After a brief back-and-forth between the two, Grand County Council Chair Evan Clapper interrupted and called the members to yield to others waiting in the room to speak. The energy of the debate between Wells and Paxman diffused and the two were cordial. Clapper opened the floor to citizens to be heard.
Nine people stood up to speak — mostly to express disapproval of the pay raise, though a couple of people stood up to say they approved of the raise and thought council did the right thing.
Those who opposed the pay raise said there was not enough public notice given, or input solicited, for what they feel is such a drastic budget move.
The first person to speak told the council said “I appreciate what you’re doing,” but said he “looked it up” and believes the council pay raise is the “most expensive in the state.”
The next speaker to take to the podium was former county council member Lynn Jackson. Jackson spoke at the last county council meeting and lambasted council at length for its pay raise; he told the council at this meeting that he has a problem with “the timing of it and the sheer amount” of the raise.
Grand County Democratic Party Chairman Kevin Walker spoke next. He said the “right way to look at it” is to compare the pay raise to other counties. Comparisons get a little tricky, he said, since Grand County has a seven-member council, not three members as in other counties.
A citizen who said he felt “angry” after reading about the issue in the newspaper spoke briefly and said he hopes the council will reconsider its motion, and then Jeramy Day stood to speak. He’s one of five citizens behind a petition to establish a study committee in the House Bill 224 initiative to change the form of county’s form of government.
“Right now it is the time to buckle down and do the work you were elected for,” Day told the council. He, like multiple speakers, suggested that the council take the funds from the pay raise and set it aside in a separate account for a future council to consider.
After all the citizen comments had been heard, council members Mary McGann, Curtis Wells, Terry Morse, Jaylyn Hawks and Greg Halliday all spoke in favor of the raise.
“Our council people were at the budget meetings for planning this year,” McGann said. She said the county’s goal is to bring everyone up to the median average for council members in the state, and said that she commits 30 or more hours each week working as a council member, which averaged to about $7 an hour at the former council pay grade.
“We’re taking the heat for it so the next council doesn’t have to,” Morse said.
One citizen weighs in at meeting before measure passes six to one
“I think this is going to be the most significant thing that either the county, or the city, or anybody in the region is doing to address affordable housing.”