The Grand County Council and Planning Commission held a joint workshop on July 21 before the council’s regular meeting to discuss a “small area development plan” for the Highway 191 corridor roughly between the junction with Highway 313 and the Moab Airport.

“We heard from council members that thinking about this as the gateway to Moab would be one guiding model for us to use in our planning process,” said Emily Campbell, chair of the Planning Commission.

The planning commission has been working on the concept since early June, prompted by numerous applications for projects like RV parks, outdoor equipment rental businesses and housing projects in the area.

“The urgency here is we are getting applications for this area, and it only seems fair to the applicants and the public that we have something to tell them as far as what we want to see there,” said Campbell.

Councilmember Curtis Wells lamented the fact that a vision had not been considered sooner, while also worrying that the planning process might hamstring developers already pursuing projects under existing guidelines.

Community Development Director Mila Dunbar-Irwin said with the time requirements for legal review and public notices, the only step that could be shortened was the public input element, which she was reluctant to do.

“Any shorter, I don’t think would be enough time for us to actually make a thoughtful plan,” she said.

Planning Commission members provided examples of small area plans from other western towns like Ketchum, Idaho and Park City, Utah to demonstrate how general or how granular such plans can be. Once an overall plan is in place, the commission can consider zoning decisions to best serve that plan.

Gateway to Moab

Councilmember Jaylyn Hawks said preserving the scenic landscape is a high priority for her.

“This morning I went on a sunrise coffee hike and looked around from Poison Spider Mesa and said, ‘My gosh, we have some of the most stunning landscape of anywhere,’” she said. “So my vision is to preserve that vision.”

Councilmember Evan Clapper agreed.

“We have a pretty fresh slate up there,” he said. “Protecting people’s awe and wonder as people travel through is high on my list.”

Clapper also said he suspects some kinds of development allowed under current zoning, such as truck stops and fast-food chains, would be unpalatable to the community.

“I don’t want to get too bogged down in what the council wants; I want to try to get right to what the community wants because I’m just trying to be a conduit for them,” he said.

Greg Halliday noted that the existing developments could be considered to be detracting from the viewshed already.

“We need to keep that in mind that this is not a pristine area by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We’ve got mining roads all over the place, we’ve got a gas station out there, we’ve got Moab Giants [Dinosaur Museum] out there, we’ve got overnight accommodations.”

Councilmembers pointed out that it may not be appropriate for the area around the airport to be governed by the same vision as the rest of the planning area, as it may be an ideal site for some types of development that might be unwelcome along the highway closer to town. The commission said they would look at redrawing the borders of the small area plan to exclude the airport.

Later during the regular meeting, Hawks suggested that the council consider a moratorium on development within the small area boundaries until the plan is completed. That suggestion will be considered on a future council agenda.

The commission has created a survey on the county website asking for citizen input on what sort of development they would like to see in the area. The commission hopes public feedback can guide them in creating some draft alternatives, which they will then again open to public comment before coming up with a final draft.

The link to the survey on the small area plan can be found here:

County leaders create a vision for Highway 191 north of Moab

“We are getting applications for this area, and it only seems fair to the applicants and the public that we have something to tell them as far as what we want to see there.”

– Emily Campbell