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For nearly nine months, the City of Moab has been developing an ordinance that would add a use parameter requirement for multi-household developments in the R3 and R4 zones: a percentage of units in the new developments to be set aside for “active employment households.” 

Over the months, the Moab City Council has deliberated what “active employment household” means and who it includes; what that percentage should be (33% was the starting point, then, following consulting from BAE Urban Economics, 42.5%); and how to face legal threats made from the Utah Central Association of Realtors because of the ordinance. 

On July 21, the Grand County Commission unanimously approved a resolution that would initiate proceedings to add a requirement to the land use code that new developments include a percentage of workforce housing. The county has six months to develop the ordinance. 

During the July 26 City Council meeting, Cory Shurtleff, the city’s planning and zoning director, gave an update on the city’s workforce housing ordinance.

The basics 

The ordinance requires units to be set aside for “active employment households,” which includes full-time employees of businesses or entities located within Grand County or Spanish Valley; owners of businesses within Grand County; full-time self-employed people who work primarily for or with Grand County or Spanish Valley clients; and retirees with a Grand County or Spanish Valley work history. It does not include people who live in Grand County who work for a company based somewhere else. 

“The qualifications have been continually tweaked, and as we’ve expanded the ordinance, broadened to a pretty significant scope,” Shurtleff said. “It’s really a broad net, to capture anybody that we might consider an essential part of our community, and specifically, our workforce.” 

Basically, he said, units that would not qualify would be second homes or overnight rentals. Of the 4,576 residential units in Grand County, 25% are second homes; a recent study conducted by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute found that in 2021, 19.3% of Grand County’s housing units were short-term rentals. 

The ordinance also has no requirements for affordability—the units can be rented at any price. However, they have to be occupied for the majority of the year by “active employment households,” which may mean that the rent, or sale of the unit, has to be lower than the market price to be attainable to the local workforce. 

Amendment options 

Shurtleff presented the council with three options for the ordinance. Option one, developed in March, proposed that 42.5% of units be set aside for active employment households. 

Option two would require 33%, though the actual number of units would be rounded down to the nearest whole number: if a development were to have three units, one would have to be set aside as an active employment unit; if a development were to have 20 units, six would have to be set aside. 

This ordinance option, Shurtleff said, would also increase the allowed building height, decrease the parking requirement, and waive 33% of the planning and building permit fees—all aimed at giving developers more of an incentive to build. 

The 33% threshold also ensures the units wouldn’t be empty, Shurtleff said: he anticipates there will always be demand. If there isn’t, the developer can utilize the “parachute clause” also included in this iteration of the ordinance, and remove the active employment household requirement for the units. 

However, Shurtleff also added a minimum rent price: if a developer advertises the units at that price, and still, no one rents them, the parachute clause will kick in. 

Option three would require 33%, all of the amendments included in option two, plus a deed restriction foreclosure clause and 30-year sunset clause. 

Shurtleff said by adding the amendments, this ordinance would be consistent with others across the state. 

Moving forward

Following a closed/executive session with the city attorney to discuss impending litigation related to the ordinance, council members tabled the ordinance.

“It seems like there are some drafting changes that need to be incorporated, and additional discussions with the lending industry and Property Rights Coalition,” said Councilmember Kalen Jones. 

Mayor Joette Langianese said the ordinance will be discussed further at a future special meeting, following conversations with the Utah Property Rights Coalition.