At their regular meeting on Feb. 8, the Moab City Council heard comments from citizens concerning the proposed pickleball courts at Old City Park, heard updates on an ordinance that would increase the number of housing units devoted to Grand County workers and discussed options for the Walnut Lane affordable housing project. They also welcomed a new planning director and discussed a planning and visioning effort.

Pickleball courts

The discussion on pickleball courts returned to the City Council meeting this week.

At their last meeting on Jan. 25, the City Council passed a motion to pursue construction of new pickleball courts at Old City Park. A year ago, the parks and recreation department received a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would fund the creation of new courts.

The city was ultimately deciding between building the courts at Swanny City Park or Old City Park. Old City Park was chosen because it was determined to have less residential impact, considering how noisy pickleball can be.

At the meeting, three citizens, mostly residents of the Old City Park neighborhood, came to express their opposition to the location of the courts. There were also numerous written comments submitted to the council.

“We’re not opposed to pickleball, we’re opposed to the noise it generates,” said Lisa Patterson, who lives adjacent to the park.

Jennifer Wenzel, who also lives in a neighborhood near Old City Park, said that Old City Park is “the last quiet park we have.” She started a petition on change.org called “Save the quiet at Old City Park in Moab UT,” which has hundreds of signatures.

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, and Wednesday, Feb. 16, the City and local pickleball players will host noise demonstrations. On Tuesday, the players will be at Old City Park to demonstrate play at 12 p.m.; on Wednesday they’ll be at the high school courts at 12 p.m. Mayor Joette Langianese encouraged residents to attend. The noise demonstrations will help the council decide how to move forward.

“We’ve been waiting a really long time for this,” said Rick Davidson, a local pickleball player who also came to the meeting. “I don’t think that Old City Park is the worst place to [have courts].”

Housing for Grand County employees

The number of proposed development applications in Moab exploded in 2021, according to Cory Shurtleff, the city’s planning director. Most of the development applications were for luxury townhomes or duplexes that were aimed at housing tourists or second homeowners. There are currently 16 applications for developments, Shurtleff said.

In October 2021, the city council passed a resolution committing the current city council to add an amendment to the housing code that would require any development in residential zones that proposes two or more households to set aside a number of units as active employment households.

This means that a number of units, in any future development in the city, would be dedicated to housing Moab and Grand County’s workforce. The resolution came with an expiration date of 180 days, which will happen on April 10.

Recently, the council tested this resolution out: the developer of Kane Creek Village, a project proposing 161 units along Kane Creek Boulevard, agreed to set aside 33% of units as active employment households.

To add an official line to the housing code to make agreements like that mandatory for any development, the council will have to decide what their official number is—if they want to stick to 33% or not—and will need to hold public hearings and get a recommendation from the planning commission. They’ll need to do this before April 10, which means the process will have to be “fast-tracked,” Shurtleff said.

The council expressed that they were willing to have as many workshops and special meetings as necessary to add the official amendment to the code, as long as the public has sufficient time to weigh in.

“This is really important for our community right now,” said Langianese. “We’re never going to make everybody happy, I mean, look at pickleball. But I think this is a really good step, and something that will really benefit us down the road as future developments continue to pour into this community.”

“Housing is a critical issue, and we don’t get to make these policy moves that often,” said Councilmember Kalen Jones. “So we need to do the best we can to help generate active employment households, particularly downtown.”

Walnut Lane

The council discussed how to move forward with the affordable housing project on Walnut Lane. The project has returned to the drawing board multiple times, for multiple reasons, the most recent being that at their last meeting, the council decided to return a $6.5 million revenue bond intended to fund the project.

Acting City Manager Carly Castle presented the council with three options: first, to continue with their current plan and attempt to develop Phase 1 internally; second, to hire a development team to manage, complete and operate the entire project, which would require the city to lease out or sell the land; or third, to pursue a hybrid model, which would involve developing Phase 1 internally, then hiring a development team to complete the project.

Castle invited Jason Glidden, the housing development manager at Park City, to speak with the council about Park City’s successes in building affordable housing for its workforce. In 2018, Park City committed to building 800 units of affordable housing by 2026; the city has so far built 133 units with immediate plans to build 372 more.

Park City leaders employed the second option Castle presented to Moab City Council: they have sold or leased land to developers who took over the projects. They also made significant changes to their building codes: any developments that offer at least 50% affordable housing units can build taller, have reduced open space requirements and reduced parking requirements and can increase the lot coverage maximum.

“It’s really hard for a city to take on that role as developer,” Glidden said. He said the city’s benefits of pursuing those public-private partnerships (faster completion of projects, and the ability to pursue multiple projects at one time), far outweighed the cons (the city would forfeit any potential profit or revenue from the project.) Hiring a developer is significantly cheaper, Glidden said, than it would be for the city to continue acting as the developer.

Councilmembers Kalen Jones, Jason Taylor and Tawny Knuteson-Boyd expressed their favor of option two.

“I’d love to figure out a process to get this done as quick as possible,” Taylor said. “I think we’ve been kicking this down the road for long enough.”

Castle said she would prepare a cost breakdown and a plan for next steps for option two.

Staffing and planning

Cory Shurtleff, assistant city planner, was recently hired as the new city planning director.

“He was the unanimous candidate, so please welcome your new planning director,” said Castle. The city also has offers out to a new planning and zoning administrator and assistant planner, she said, so the Planning Department will soon be fully staffed.

The city manager and city attorney positions are still open.

The council also heard updates on a community visioning process the city is undergoing with Future iQ, a research firm that is developing a future-oriented “community vision and strategic action plan” for the city. The plan’s goal is to set up a framework for future land use, economic, social and environmental decisions. It will be completed in October 2022. Right now, Future iQ is working on developing a community survey, which will become available to Moab community members sometime in the next few weeks.