After unexpected delays over the past year, the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah (HASU) is one step closer to breaking ground this summer on a long-planned affordable housing complex for lower-income senior residents.
The Moab City Council voted unanimously last week to approve a subdivision improvements agreement and a final plat for the 36-unit apartment complex near Moab Regional Hospital and the Canyonlands Care Center.
The council’s March 12 action creates a 1.64-acre lot that will be the future home of the complex for residents 55 and older who earn up to 50 percent of the community’s area median income. Construction work on 30 one-bedroom units and six two-bedroom units is expected to take nine to 10 months, and HASU Executive Director Ben Riley anticipates that the project team will break ground on the project this summer.
The Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District (CHCSSD) donated the land, which has an assessed value of $210,000, because the project fits within the Moab Area Partnership for Seniors (MAPS) vision for the larger campus, district board chair Kirstin Peterson said in 2017.
The district will continue to own the remaining 7.8 acres of the property, which has a Williams Way street address, but is on vacant land off Park Drive. It will be reserved for future development that’s in line with the MAPS vision for the immediate area that is also home to the hospital, the care center and the Grand Center.
Initially, the project team had hoped that it could begin construction work on the project in August or September of last year. But those dates came and went without a groundbreaking ceremony, and Moab City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd said she doesn’t believe that the project should be delayed any longer.
While some Park Drive residents have raised concerns about the project’s impacts on the surrounding area, Knuteson-Boyd cited the housing authority’s track record, noting that other HASU projects have been well-received in the community.
“It’s very needed,” she said on March 12. “I have faith that HASU will mitigate as much unpleasantness for the residents as possible.”
Two of those residents — Wendy Young and Brody Young — asked council members to determine if there is a better access point for the project, and to consider the effects that it could have on the neighborhood.
Wendy Young urged them to consider if they could hold a public hearing or meeting where they could gather input and enable residents to share their thoughts about the project.
“I know … it seems like there’s really not much we can do — we’ve kind of been told that from the get-go,” she said. “But it would be nice if you looked into it, because that’s a lot of people that are going to be impacted, and our neighborhood has been impacted by the Grand Center, the hospital (and) the helicopter pad right behind our house.”
Brody Young, who presented the city with the signatures of other residents who have voiced concerns about the project, said he felt they were “unjustly unnotified” that the item would appear on the council’s March 12 agenda.
“We were hoping to get our voice to the table before this happened,” he said. “If there’s any way that we can delay this and maybe talk about it more, we do have a solution.”
But Moab City Manager David Everitt informed the council that public hearings on final plats for projects that the city classifies as “minor subdivisions” are not required.
“(We) don’t do public hearings for minor subdivisions — that’s where we’re at,” he said.
Mayor Emily Niehaus questioned how an unscheduled public hearing would affect the project’s timeline, leading HASU Executive Director Ben Riley to state that his team is hoping to go over the building permits in early April.
“So it would definitely affect the project timeline,” Riley said. “It will take us two to three months to close on financing, starting essentially (last week) … but we were hoping to do that concurrently with building plan approval.”
Everitt said the earliest date that the city would be able to schedule a public hearing would be at the council’s first meeting in April.
But Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany cautioned council members that the applicants have already gone through the city’s preliminary plat procedure — one of two required steps in the city’s process.
Typically, he said, the final plat review is conducted to determine if any conditions that the city’s planning commission raised during the earlier stage of the process have been satisfied. If they have been satisfied, he said, the next question is whether the subdivision is ready to go and the plat can be recorded — the final step before development can proceed.
“So your review is pretty limited,” McAnany said. “I would caution that you don’t typically engage in wholesale rewriting of — or redesign — of a subdivision (for) that final plat, because that has not been reviewed by planning commission and is not the subject of the original application.”
Everitt said the process is typically more of an administrative one, and there is “not a ton” of legislative leeway that is involved.
Moab City Council member Mike Duncan told the audience that he’s been an advocate of public hearings and notices in cases where legislative decisions were “clearly at stake,” because some residents tend to learn about higher-profile issues “late in the game.” In recent months, for instance, he noted that the city’s since-abandoned proposal to mandate recycling drew roomfuls of people to the council’s chambers.
“This guy’s a little bit different than some of the other issues,” he said.
In addition, Duncan cited the city attorney’s words of caution that council members have a limited amount of room to maneuver around the issue.
“Without any disrespect to you folks that took the time and care to come down and let us know how you feel about it, there’s a fairly limited impact, as opposed to the whole town being affected by what’s going on,” Duncan said. “So I don’t mean to think badly of you, but it does weaken the case altogether for an additional public hearing, in my opinion.”
Peterson reminded council members that a previous council did hold a public hearing on a related zoning change, and at that point, she said, the project team’s plans for the property were “pretty well known” in the community.
“There was quite a bit of participation by the neighborhood at that time,” Peterson said. “Granted, that (hearing) was for the zone change, but it was definitely about the development, and what we (are) planning to do.”
Riley said he tries to make a point of keeping the surrounding neighborhood apprised of updates to the project’s site plan. But he didn’t receive any responses to the most recent update he sent in December 2018, he said.
ACCESS POINT A CONCERN FOR PROJECT’S IMMEDIATE NEIGHBORS
Wendy Young said the housing authority’s plans for 36 apartment units is among her main concerns about the project.
“That’s more units than houses in our whole subdivision, and that’s going to have a huge impact on our street,” she said.
In particular, she maintained that the developers “want” all traffic from the apartment complex to go in and out via Park Drive.
“We moved into that house because it’s (on) a dead-end street, and we have lots of kids that live there, and so we wish there would be some kind of consideration for the impact that it’s going to have on our area,” she said.
Brody Young shared those concerns.
“There will only be one access, and it’s through our neighborhood, which has been a dead-end for many years,” he said.
Another access point via Williams Way could help the project’s residents access the hospital, the Grand Center and other places in town, Brody Young said, instead of leading them down Park Drive and creating “a lot” of traffic.
Peterson countered that it’s never been the special service district’s intention to develop the entire property from just one access point.
“The whole plan for all of the district-owned property has been to meet the goals of the MAPS plan … and that includes independent senior living, assisted living and potentially more health-care offices and services,” she said. “So those are really the only types of development that would happen within all of the property that we’re looking at, and access points have always been considered to be both sides of Park Drive, as well as some access from Campus Care (Drive).”
Riley said the primary concern that residents had at the time of the public hearing on the zoning change had to do with the connectivity of Park Drive.
“That was kind of the main driver for our discussions with the neighbors (and) with city staff, in coming up with this plat as it stands now,” he said.
Moving forward, Riley said that the housing authority will work with the special service district to mitigate any construction-related damage to portions of that street.
Generally speaking, Moab City Engineer Chuck Williams said that city officials support road connectivity in town.
It’s his expectation that as the rest of the parcel in question is developed, an additional road would be built, and Walnut Lane would be opened up to provide connectivity in the area.
“We looked at this as an incremental development,” Williams said. “The senior housing here (will be) responsible for the road in front of their property, and in future, whether it’s connected over here to Park Drive (or) whether it’s connected … to Orchard Park Lane, the Campus Care (Drive) through Walnut Lane, I think those are all positive transportation connectivities.”
In the shorter term, however, Peterson said that any move to shift some of the burden from construction-related traffic away from Park Drive could be cost-prohibitive.
“It would definitely involve, I think, fairly significant cost to try to put in even a temporary roadway to access that site,” she said. “… There’s a tremendous amount of trees; there would be a lot of road grading work needed.”
In addition, Peterson said that although Campus Care Drive is a city street, it was not originally planned to be one, so it’s much narrower than most roadways in Moab.
“So I personally don’t think it’s the best option to be bringing potentially heavy construction traffic on that street, which is the main access point for the ambulance and a lot of the hospital workings,” she said.
For a number of different reasons, she said, the project has been very tight on its budget.
“And any extra cost at this point could really delay or potentially jeopardize the ability to actually make it happen,” she said.
If the city required the project’s team to look into the possibility of adding a temporary construction road, she said, it could conceivably do so.
“But I guess we have a city street that’s really not that long to access this (site), and to put in a much longer access point for the construction traffic doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.
Ultimately, Williams said that once construction work begins, the project’s contractor will be required to obtain a right-of-way use permit from the city, along with a traffic-control plan.
“During construction, I think we can do a lot to mitigate the safety concerns regarding those vehicles, and that’s part of our process,” he said.
Some Park Drive residents concerned about impacts to neighborhood
“It’s very needed … I have faith that HASU will mitigate as much unpleasantness for the residents as possible.”