[Moab Sun News file photo]

Pumping the brakes on fast-paced development in the Moab area, the Grand County Council unanimously voted to begin a six-month moratorium on hotel and overnight rental development. Dozens of community members showed up at the council’s chambers on Tuesday, Feb. 5, as it considered the motion.

The move is like hitting the pause button, people at the council meeting said. Real estate project developments underway as well as “completed applications” filed with the county will continue to rightfully proceed, but new land use applications are prohibited. Utah Municipal Code says “A land use application is considered submitted and complete when the applicant provides the application in a form that complies with the requirements of applicable ordinances and pays all applicable fees.”

Summarizing the council’s motion and decision, Grand County Council chair Evan Clapper read aloud the clauses that the council feels substantiates its decision to implement the halt on new development for six months. Perhaps the most urgent reason given is that the Moab valley has less water — 11,000 to 13,000 acre feet — than a previous estimate of 18,000 to 20,000 acre feet. Clapper also said that the number of residential homes has not increased along with the number of overnight rentals and a lack of housing means there are 250 unfilled jobs in the community that have been vacant for 30 days or longer. 

With standing room only at the council meeting, citizens spoke into a mic individually to council members on the proposal before the vote was taken. Nearly 100 people signed a petition submitted to council urging the moratorium on new short-term rentals.

Reed Pendleton, the owner of Moab Rim Campground, is hoping to expand and said, “I am here kind of against the moratorium, in a sense.”

Campground permits are very specific, he said, and are only on property zoned as highway commercial. He said he’s spent two years trying to find more property to expand his campground.  

“The price per acre for highway commercial is now close to a million an acre,” he said. 

He suggested making campgrounds exempt from the proposal, emphasizing at one point that the campground “educates” people on how to camp.

“I don’t think they should be lumped in with all the other hotels,” he said. 

Grand County Council member Curtis Wells asked for a clarification. “So you bought a property to build a new campground that you’re saying the land use code doesn’t allow for …”

Pendleton said the property for an expansion has not been purchased yet, but that the land use code would allow for the campground based on current zoning. He said his campground right now is booked from mid-March to June and he’s “sending people to Thompson Springs” for camping.

Grand County planners, speaking as private citizens, voiced their support for the measure, as did people who are concerned for the area’s disproportionate number of overnight rentals to housing for locals.

Resident Carol Mayer, citing an unofficial tally of over 3,000 overnight rental rooms in the area, said, “We do need to put the brakes on in this community. I’m shocked at the tally of rooms and what’s projected to come.”

“I am very much in favor of the moratorium,” said Gerrish Willis, chair of the Grand County planning commission, who said he was speaking as an individual citizen. “Moab needs to look at where the commercial development is going to develop.”

“A moratorium would allow the community to catch up in other parts of its community,” Moab resident Solona Jade Sisco said, citing the need to study how much water is available in the valley, ecologically unsustainable bunkhouses and employment.

Cali Bulmash has been a Moab resident for seven years and is in favor of the moratorium as a way to support local businesses endeavors “so that our community is able to survive this corporate influx of money and interest.”

“I am forever struggling to find housing,” Bulmash said. “Hotels and overnight rentals affect the housing availability in this community… Our community members are not actually able to live here.” 

Wells asked if there has there been any discussion to amendments on land use code during this six month period, or if the timeframe is “strictly just a pause of growth.”

The council plans to direct the county planning officials to initiate a review of the Grand County Land Use Code during the six-month moratorium.

Speaking personally, Clapper said he felt that the quality of life and the “central downtown community feel” is being lost in Moab. He gave an example of his family’s doctor’s office moving to the edge of town. 

“There are small businesses in direct competition with big hoteliers,” he said. “I can’t remember a time when someone ever said they wish there were more hotels in town.”

The businesses that provide essential services, like physical therapists and dentists, that are limited to commercial properties, he said, but they can’t afford commercial property in town.

“It’s very limited along the highway corridor and I would like to protect the opportunity for diversification,” Clapper said.

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan encouraged the council to continue discussions and focus on studies that have been completed.

New hotel and overnight rental development on ‘pause’ as local government reviews land use and studies

“I am forever struggling to find housing.”