Mayor Emily Niehaus presented a plaque to David Olsen on behalf of the City for twenty-five years of work to “beautify and energize our community.” [Photo credit Rachel Fixsen / Moab Sun News]

The Moab City Council held extensive meetings on Tuesday to discuss development standards for overnight accommodation, how the city will divide contribution money among community organizations, and a new strategy for street parking.

Development standards

Both the city and county councils and planning commissions have been holding public meetings and workshops for over a year, teasing out a vision for how they’d like to see overnight accommodations develop in the future. The City Council met for yet another workshop on the topic ahead of Tuesday evening, and then held a public hearing on their draft plans at the regular meeting.

City Planner Nora Shepard gave a presentation on the process of drafting the standards that will apply to all new overnight accommodations.

“There was a compelling, countervailing public interest to assure that lodging uses are developed in a manner that complements the other needs of the city and its residents,” Shepard explained. “That was sort of our ‘marching orders.’”

City staff have outlined seven categories to be addressed by the standards: energy efficiency, density and size, aesthetics, landscaping and buffering from neighbors, mixed use requirements, such as open space or retail space that will serve residents, water conservation measures, and traffic mitigation.

The requirements will be designed as “performance standards,” meaning an outcome will be defined, and the developers can decide how they will meet that standard.

Shepard noted that the City does not want to discourage the development of overnight accommodations, but does want to ensure they integrate well with the community. Planners have tried to keep both objectives in mind.

“Most of the funding for Moab’s General Fund relies on that tourist economy,” she reminded the council. “We have to recognize our status as a resort community, and honor that. We’ve tried to balance community needs and developer needs as much as possible.”

City and county planners are taking slightly different approaches to implementing their development standards. The County is creating “overlay zones” for overnight accommodations. If a developer has a parcel that lies within an overlay zone, they can apply to the county council to invoke that use. The City, in contrast, is amending the language in the existing zoning codes. Though the implementation will be different, the two entities are trying to create consistent standards.

Three citizens gave public comments. Amy Weiser, who has worked in the past for the City of Moab as Community Services Director, asked for clarification various details of the ordinance, such as whether the maximum size of 40,000 square feet included the mandatory commercial and retail space required. She also made small suggestions such as creating a specific standard for large vehicle parking, rather than leaving it up to the developer, as the current draft does.

Mayor Emily Niehaus asked if she had any overall comments. Weiser said most developers she’d talked with were most concerned about the energy standard, which would require developers to produce 80% of their energy on site, something which might prove prohibitive to projects.

Two other citizens commented to say they were opposed to the development of any more overnight accommodation in Moab, and that they preferred the county’s implementation approach, which they thought was more “metered.”

City staff will consider input from the public in revising the standards before possibly voting on them at the Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 9. If the standards pass at that meeting, they will come before the council at their regular meeting on Jan. 14.

Community contributions

Each year the city receives applications from local organizations for monetary support, sponsorship, or fee waivers for programs and events. Last fall, the City Manager appointed a four-person committee, comprised of city staff, to review these applications and decide how to allocate available funds.

Thirteen applications were received, asking for a total of $124,107—far more than the $55,000 the City had to give. The committee set aside $14,500 to be used for event sponsorship, leaving only $40,500 to divide among the applicants. For comparison, last year the city spent $11,500 on event sponsorship, and have since raised their event fee rates.

In evaluating the applications, the committee considered the services provided to the community, the number of residents served, and the organization’s history. They also examined whether the organization filled a gap in city services. They created a table giving their recommendations for how much each group should receive.

The council discussed the allocations at a workshop ahead of the meeting, raising some friction as they weighed the values of community groups. The committee recommended a $3,500 contribution to the Humane Society of Moab for their animal adoption programs, spay and neuter programs, and feral cat programs. While all council members praised the adoption program, they were divided on the feral cat program.

The Humane Society of Moab holds a “no-kill” policy, which means they don’t euthanize any animals. As many pets as possible are adopted, but this isn’t an option for cats born and raised away from humans. Though descended from the domestic cat, they are essentially wild animals. The Humane Society practices “trap, neuter, release” (TNR) with these animals. They capture feral cats, spay or neuter them, clip one of their ears to signify that they’ve been fixed, and release them into a “colony,” where Humane Society volunteers feed them.

Citizens contacted the council by letter to express their opposition to this practice, citing studies that show cats kill as many as a billion birds each year, and that TNR programs are not effective.

Councilmember Kalen Jones agreed with those concerned citizens.

“This isn’t really a no-kill program,” Jones said, “it’s choosing which animals are favored. I don’t feel comfortable spending public money to subsidize the killing of songbirds. I think the Humane Society does great work in other areas.”

Councilmember Tawny Knuteson-Boyd advised those against the TNR program to address the Humane Society directly with their complaints.

“If this group of citizens has issues with that particular program, I think they should go to the Humane Society and request that they change it, rather than using the council as their crowbar to get rid of it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s our purview to tell these groups what they should and shouldn’t do when they’ve been open and honest about what they’ve applied for.”

Niehaus did not express any discomfort specifically with the TNR program, but she did feel that the recommendations left out important groups.

“I think about where we want to ‘point positive’ with our community,” Niehaus said. “When I saw that zero was [allocated] for the Youth Garden Project, zero was for Community Childcare, and then Full Circle Intertribal was only receiving in-kind at the MARC—that kind of gut-punched me.”

The Youth Garden Project requested $8,000 to support their youth camps. The committee considered this service redundant with summer camps offered by the city at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center. Moab Community Childcare’s request was for a program that will not start until 2021, which puts it outside the Community Contributions requirement that money awarded be spent within a year. The Full Circle Intertribal Center, a new organization dedicated to indigenous culture, requested $10,000 for its Nourishing Traditions Indigenous Gathering Circle and Elders Community Gathering. The committee recommended that the city give $1,500 worth of meeting space and kitchen rental at the MARC.

Niehaus was surprised that the committee had not recommended higher contributions for these organizations. “That is really where I thought we were trying to double down, was in care for kids and those that are a minority population,” she said.

During the regular meeting, one public comment on the issue was made by Dennis Silva. He, too, opposed the city supporting the Humane Society’s TNR program.

“The research has clearly shown that it doesn’t work,” he said. “It doesn’t work in terms of reducing the population of cats… I appreciate what the Humane Society does in terms of getting all the pets that are abandoned into homes whenever we can. But the feral cat program is not a winner, and it’s actually a loser for our birds.”

Jones made a motion to adopt the committee’s recommendations for community contributions, with the modification that the allocation of $3,500 to the Humane Society be reduced to $1,000, and the remaining $2,500 be awarded to the Youth Garden Project. The motion failed for lack of a second, and the issue was tabled for future discussion.

New parking design

Chuck Williams gave a presentation on a pilot parking design that was implemented on 100 South, west of Main Street, in May of this year. The new parking design facilitates back-in, angled parking. Williams described the advantages of this approach, saying it allows an unobstructed view of traffic when leaving the parking space, as well as communication with other drivers, it allows for safer access to the trunk from the sidewalk, it allows easier entry into the car from the sidewalk, and angled parking of any kind allows for more parking spaces. He emphasized bicycle safety as a major concern for people backing out of street parking into traffic in areas where spaces are designed for front-in parking.

Williams had five other locations in town where the council might consider implementing back-in angled parking. Council members discussed these locations, noting that some were not popular with cyclists. They were most interested in the busy block in front of Moonflower Market and the Post Office.

Council members were not convinced that the project was addressing a significant need in the community. Mike Duncan asked if Williams had any statistics showing that back-in parking reduced bicycle accidents.

“Otherwise we’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Williams said they are using a four-year study from Tuscon which found that back-in angle parking did significantly reduce bike accidents.

The Council was hesitant to give the green light to any actions that would add expenses to their already tight budget, like re-striping parking spaces. They tabled the issue for future discussion.

Difficult decisions in community contributions

“The feral cat program is not a winner, and it’s actually a loser for our birds.”

– Dennis Silva