Time out, lodging developers.
The Moab City Council voted 4-0 last week to enact an ordinance that places a temporary 180-day moratorium on the development of new overnight accommodations, including hotels and bed-and- breakfast operations. Council member Rani Derasary, who was in Washington, D.C., to lobby in support of more federal funding for the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project, did not participate in the Feb. 12 vote.
The action follows a similar vote that the Grand County Council took on Feb. 5, following a sharp rise in the recent development of new hotels and overnight units in the city and surrounding unincorporated areas. According to Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany, the six-month pause will give city staffers and officials time to review ordinances in zoning districts where overnight rentals are allowed.
“Essentially, the direction (from the ordinance) would be to staff to look at future code revisions during that six-month period and come back with additional recommendations,” McAnany said.
Moab City Council member Kalen Jones tied the city’s action to the “overwhelming success” of the community’s tourism and lodging industry.
“Like it or not, this is the industry that has, in the time that I’ve been in Moab, gone from a Main Street that was run down with boarded-up businesses, to a really vibrant economy, and one that allows … this organization to expand its services, while remaining one of the few cities in Utah without a property tax,” he said.
But the city has been a victim of its own success, Jones said.
“And I really think we need a pause to complete some much-needed work to address broader community development concerns,” he said. “This ordinance spells out multiple parts of our general plan that point to economic diversification and community development, which are hard to achieve when we’re being overdeveloped with lodging.”
Mayor Emily Niehaus called the council’s action “a fire under our rocket” to make city officials “shoot off into the future land-use planning horizon.”
“I am excited for this fire,” she said.
McAnany said the ordinance exempts current developments and projects with previously submitted applications that are currently under staff review. Nor does it affect existing uses, or current nightly rentals in the city’s C1 and C2 commercial zoning districts, he said.
According to an overview of the ordinance, the city is engaged in future land-use planning to evaluate the “right mix” of land uses in various zoning districts; and to consider where nightly rental uses are appropriate. A downtown-area plan and related ordinances are also in the works, the overview says, and city officials maintain there is an “urgent need” to update Moab’s existing land-use and development code ahead of future growth in the community.
Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd said she thinks it’s important to let the public know that the moratorium is not an indefinite one, noting that state law ties the city’s hands and prevents it from enacting a longer pause.
“We’ve had a few letters that it should go on until we received certain reports … and we’re capped at 180 days, and we can’t enact a new one just to extend it,” she said.
STUDY FINDS THAT NIGHTLY RENTALS CROWD OUT OTHER USES
A joint city- and county-commissioned study found that the development of new nightly rentals “crowds out” the development of other business uses in Moab, while also driving up the demand for affordable workforce housing.
“The increase in the number of nightly rental developments in the downtown area of the city in particular is forcing out other important land uses to the detriment of balanced community development,” a city memo says. “Existing land use requirements and market forces have not facilitated the development of a balanced mix of business types, residential inventory, and accommodations for visitors in the downtown core.”
Jones noted that the joint study established a connection between new lodging development and the reduced supply of affordable housing in the community.
“So I really believe there is a compelling, countervailing public interest to ensure that lodging uses are developed in a manner that complements the other needs of the city and its residents, and that this ordinance is necessary to (ensure) that the city can promptly develop ordinances and policies to achieve those ends,” he said.
Niehaus said there’s much excitement surrounding the development possibilities inside the city’s C2 zone — which includes the area around Moab Regional Hospital, among other places — because it allows for mixed uses.
“That’s our one zone that really has, like, some mixed-use potential, and so I’m excited to look at doing a deeper dive into what mixed use looks like within our zones,” Niehaus said.
Moab resident Carol Mayer told the council that in unincorporated Grand County alone, there are 541 new overnight units in various stages of development — to say nothing of another 595 overnight units in Moab.
By her count, overnight lodging units can already accommodate an average of more than 25,000 additional people in the valley. And with more units in the works, Mayer urged the council to stem the “tidal wave” of potentially negative impacts that she linked to a still-growing tourist industry, from environmental degradation and pollution to the proliferation of low-wage service-sector jobs, as well as greater strains on housing and emergency services.
Grand County Democratic Party chair Kevin Walker, who also serves on the county’s planning commission, said that a temporary moratorium is “kind of a no-brainer.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to take a new look at hotels if you’re going to contemplate a significant change in zoning?” he asked.
It should be a “very easy road” to follow, he said, adding that he doesn’t know many people who think the current situation is great.
“The tough votes will come in the future when you decide what the long-term policy should be,” Walker said.
Niehaus urged council members to stay on top of the issue, reminding them that they have just six months to review any related code revisions.
“We need to … not delay forward momentum by not making hard choices,” she said. “… We’re going to have to make some serious choices as we move this process forward, so we need to be ready to do that.”
Officials say six-month moratorium needed to review code revisions
“… I really think we need a pause to complete some much-needed work to address broader community development concerns.”