The Grand County Commission approved a letter to the Bureau of Land Management regarding plans for future management of Mill Creek Canyon, after tabling the issue at its last two meetings. The commission also considered a proposal for a cell phone tower near Highway 313, approved a slight change to the rules and regulations related to the High Density Housing Overlay, and approved a funding agreement with the Utah Department of Transportation for a paved path along Spanish Valley Drive, part of a “recreation hotspot” award from the state.

Mill Creek Canyon recommendations

Increasing visitation and resource damage has prompted stakeholders to consider future management strategies for the popular Mill Creek Canyon recreation area close to Moab. A group called the Mill Creek Community Collaborative has spent years discussing the issues and surveying the community, and recently submitted a set of recommendations to the BLM, which owns the area, for future action. The City of Moab recently approved a letter to the BLM supporting the MCCC’s recommendations. [See “Council talks ADUs, infrastructure updates,” Nov. 11 edition. -ed.]

The Grand County Commission has taken more time to consider the issue. [See “Managing Mill Creek Potato Salad Hill,” Nov. 4 edition. -ed.] Stakeholders including longtime environmental stewardship nonprofit Moab Solutions and the county’s Motorized Trails Advisory Committee disagreed with some of the recommendations produced by the MCCC, particularly the recommendation to consider closing Potato Salad Hill to motorized use. The feature has long been treasured by 4×4 enthusiasts. Commissioner Jacques Hadler also noted that he’s been approached by cyclists who don’t want to see the Mail Trail closed to bikes, another action recommended for consideration by the MCCC.

After tabling a comment letter on the issue at its last two meetings, on Nov. 16 the commission approved a letter to the BLM laying out actions it would like the agency to include in considerations, and including the clarification that “These are not specific endorsements, rather areas we’d like the BLM to take a hard look and provide different management options for analysis.”

The commission’s letter advocates for management of secondary access points to Mill Creek Canyon (other than the primary access at the Powerdam Trailhead), and encourages the BLM to consider an alternative plan submitted by Moab Solutions. The letter also suggests that the BLM consider whether cycling is an appropriate use on trails in the area.

A final edit at Tuesday’s meeting removed a reference to closing Potato Salad Hill to motorized use, and instead simply suggested that the BLM closely consider permitted uses in that area. The revised letter passed unanimously.

Proposed cell tower

The commission heard a presentation from telecommunications company AT&T requesting a resolution in support of a proposed 80 foot cell tower to be erected near the intersection of Highway 313 and Grand Viewpoint Road. The location is also close to a well-known landmark known as “the Knoll.”

AT&T is pursuing a grant through the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity to expand its network capabilities. The proposed tower would improve cell service in Dead Horse Point State Park as well as areas in Canyonlands and Arches national parks. The grant requires a resolution of support from the local government entity. The location is near an existing oil and gas refinery, and presenters said it is unlikely the pole would be required to have any lighting. If the grant is awarded, AT&T would bring the design and site plan back before the commission for approval.

Commissioners expressed some concern for the viewshed in the area, asking if it’s possible that lighting would be required on the pole after further analysis and whether the pole would be located on top of the Knoll and visible from far away. However, commissioners agreed that improved cell coverage in the area would help with emergency services and search and rescue efforts in the area, in addition to adding convenience for general users.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the resolution in support of the grant, with the caveats that the tower should not be over 80 feet tall, violate dark sky ordinances, or be overly visually obtrusive. AT&T will still need to submit their grant application and, if approved, apply for permits through the BLM.

Housing

In 2019, the county established a High Density Housing Overlay that allowed property owners in eligible areas to develop their properties at higher densities than the underlying zoning would normally allow, as long as a portion of the new housing units were deed restricted to Grand County workers. A disagreement arose between some developers using the overlay and the county: developers had been operating with the understanding that it was only the occupant of the housing unit that had to qualify under HDHO criteria; county officials said that the owner of the housing unit had to qualify, and clarified that interpretation of the ordinance in a set of rules and regulations regarding the HDHO. That document was passed this spring.

At the Nov. 16 meeting, the commission unanimously passed an amendment clarifying that if a financial institution acquires an HDHO lot or unit by foreclosure sale, that institution does not need to meet the qualifying criteria for an HDHO owner. If the financial institution sells the unit or lot, however, the buyer and any occupants must meet the criteria.

Hotspot project

The commission unanimously approved a funding agreement with the Utah Department of Transportation for the first phase of a bike path to be constructed along Spanish Valley Drive. The first phase is planned to extend from Mill Creek Drive to Starbuck Lane.

UDOT will reimburse the county up to $2.7 million for the project. The bike path is one of three projects approved to make use of the “recreation hotspot” funding awarded to the Moab area in 2018 to address traffic congestion and advance recreation access.

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 commission@grandcountyutah.net to automatically reach each County Commission member, the commission administrator, the associate commission administrator, and the county attorney.