“Without vision, the people perish” said new Grand County Planning and Zoning Director John Guenther at a July 20 Grand County Commission Workshop. Guenther led the commission in an exercise to brainstorm ideas for the county’s long-range strategic plan, a document to guide more specific planning efforts in the coming years.
“With a good strong vision and a good buy-in, then it tends to set the tone… when you start looking at the context-rich words that come out of them, there are ways of measuring those,” he said. Guenther described how guiding documents like strategic, general, and master plans, as well as budget processes and indicators, will build on each other.
“It’s cyclical, because one is informing updating the other,” he said.
Tuesday’s workshop focused on identifying values, strengths and weaknesses within the county to start sketching a vision statement. Guenther acknowledged that some see vision statements as “fuzzy,” but displayed a community plan from Sedona, Arizona, as a positive example.
Sedona’s vision statement describes the community as one that “nurtures connections between people, encourages healthy and active lifestyles, and supports a diverse and prosperous economy, with priority given to the protection of the environment.”
Those values translate into policy objectives like environmental stewardship, improved traffic flow, walkability, increasing economic diversity and fostering a sense of place.
In another example, Utah’s Park City illustrates their values through the image of a tree, with the roots being the qualities of historic character, small town setting, a sense of community and the natural setting.
Commissioners described the things they love about Grand County, the things that drew them here and the things they hope to see; they also described their frustrations with some aspects of life in a rural, tourist-driven town and fears of the consequences of some recent or approaching changes.
Public lands, natural resources, outdoor recreation, and an agricultural legacy were mentioned as strengths, along with a “small-town” feel and a friendly, engaged community. On the other hand, commissioners said housing affordability and traffic, aspects that may have been positives in the past, are trending toward expensive and congested. Overcrowding and environmental degradation were listed as threats, as well as possible limitations on water resources.
Many observations of the county were both strengths and weaknesses. Commissioners appreciated that Moab is more diverse than many small Utah towns, but noted that the population is still largely white. The county was praised as a “great place to raise kids,” but commissioners also lamented the lack of child care services. Commissioners were glad there are no “big box” stores in Moab, but also said it can be problematic when there’s nowhere convenient to buy necessary items. The airport and highway provide connectivity, but commissioners would like to see improved transportation options both within Grand County and connecting to the region. Healthcare and emergency services were praised as being exceptional for a rural area, but it was also acknowledged that the community’s needs sometimes exceed what those local services can provide.
Pending developments like the new Utah State University campus and the Utahraptor State Park were identified as opportunities.
Aspects of the economy were described as strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. Commissioner Evan Clapper called Moab’s tourism industry a “micro-mono economy,” but also noted that it thrived through the pandemic. “It is fairly vibrant… we’re still experiencing growth.’
Commissioners offered vignettes characterizing Grand County and Moab, sometimes in conflicting ways.
“It feels really safe,” Clapper said in praise of Grand County. “My kids bike to school—I cut them loose, I don’t see them ’til after dark. People aren’t locking their doors at the grocery store. It’s a different vibe than some other areas that might struggle with crime.”
“I think of Moab as a fairly friendly place,” said Commissioner Kevin Walker, who is the chair of the Grand County Democratic Party. That position puts him in opposition with some residents, but Walker said that political disagreement isn’t acrimonious.
“I can still have a friendly conversation with them if I bump into them in the grocery store,” he said. “I think there are parts of this country where that’s not true.”
Later, Commissioner Jacques Hadler agreed that when he first moved to Moab, the first thing he noticed was “a very accessible community.”
“I felt embraced by people in various circles,” he said, though he later pointed out that recent controversies like concerns over noise and UTVs have brought out a lot of anger and conflict among residents.
“We’re still kind of weird, still a little trashy, still a little avant-garde,” said Clapper, searching for the right adjectives to define Moab’s allure as a place for outsiders and non-conventionalists. “People always want to preserve the idea of the Haydukes or all these Ed Abbey characters that can just jump into a truck and end up in the desert and write poetry and howl at the moon,” he said.
In contrast to that wild west, free-spirit vision, Clapper also later said that when he was looking for a place to relocate, one of his requirements was that he would be able to buy a soy latte in town.
“I think there’s a little opportunity to be bougie and attract some of those higher-end ‘brain-trust’ sort of folks to relocate here,” he said. Recently community leaders have been discussing ways to attract remote workers from diverse industries, such as the technology sector, to Grand County.
Guenther kept track of commissioners’ ideas in a chart. The commission will continue with another similar exercise and begin drafting a vision statement at another workshop in two weeks.
“I’m extremely excited about doing this strategic plan,” said Commission Chair Mary McGann as the workshop wrapped up. “It can make a big difference in our future, so I definitely want to do it right.”
The Grand County Commission meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Grand County Youtube channel. Schedules, agendas and opportunities for public comment can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net. Residents can email email@example.com to automatically reach each County Commission member, the commission administrator, the associate commission administrator, and the county attorney.