The Moab City Council has made it easier for property owners to create additional living spaces on existing single-family home lots, following revised state law and attempting to address the continued housing shortage in the city.

An ordinance “amending the text of the Moab Municipal Code to allow accessory dwelling units in all residential zones” was first put before the council in October 2021, and was tabled multiple times and went through a legal review before it was approved at the Dec. 14 regular meeting. The code revision passed 4-1, with Councilmember Rani Derasary in dissent.

Accessory dwelling units are small independent living spaces on the same lot as a single-family home, typically in the form of mother-in-law buildings, basement apartments or an above-garage studio. The structures can be attached to the home or be a separate structure but use the existing infrastructure, like water and sewer, of the house.

This ordinance is intended to remove barriers that prevent more residents from building ADUs and to encourage residents to build ADUs for the purpose of creating more workforce housing.

Moab hadn’t updated its code governing ADUs since 2018, while the Utah State Legislature passed House Bill 82 this past year, which allows for more internal ADUs in single-family homes and adds enforcement provisions to ensure the apartments are not used as short-term rentals.

A handful of communities in Utah and Colorado have successfully promoted ADUs for workforce housing, including Salt Lake City, Park City, Durango, Crested Butte and St. George; examples from these communities have been brought before the council at previous meetings.

At the Dec. 14 meeting, Assistant Planner Cory Shurtleff presented the most recent changes to the ordinance. A legal review created new definitions for ADUs: type 1, an external ADU, sometimes called a “mother-in-law” apartment; type 2, an internal ADU built separately from the main dwelling area, like a “two-family” dwelling such as a duplex; and type 3, an ADU inside an existing home.

Type 3 ADUs were newly defined by House Bill 82, which makes it much easier for homeowners to declare a portion of their existing home as an ADU. Such spaces are required to be within homes that are owner-occupied and must not be used for short-term rentals—the minimum lease length is three months, in an attempt to limit short-term rentals.

“It provides more options,” Shurtleff said. However, the council questioned how to manage the inspections and enforce the restrictions on type 3 ADUs.

Councilmember Derasary expressed dismay at previous meetings that the ordinance would increase the workload for the Moab City Police Department.

The city’s only code compliance specialist, Mona Pompili, previously worked within the Planning and Zoning Department but the position was shifted to the police department. Code compliance already deals with nightly rental restrictions—new nightly rentals are not allowed within city limits, and anyone renting out their property, both short-term and long-term, must have a business license—so enforcing the new ADU code would fall within this category.

A line was added to the revised Moab code stating that the intent for type 1 and type 2 ADUs be for the purpose of “Active Employment Households,” or available specifically for local workers rather than those who work remotely. Type 3 ADUs are defined by state law so no such language was added.

Councilmember Kalen Jones argued that reserving housing for those working at local businesses was crucial to addressing labor shortages, noting staffing issues at Moab Regional Hospital and the Grand County School District.

“Everyone has their reason why they want to be here, and in an ideal world, we could accommodate them. But unfortunately, we have a labor crisis,” Jones said. “At a certain point, I feel like it is our—my—responsibility to draw the line somewhere and start to carve out a little bit of housing that is targeted toward meeting the needs of local employers.”