“I had the foresight of seeing this five years ago, and I built my camp park as long-term rentals for the workforce,” said Dan Stott, owner of the Contractor’s Roost, a long term RV and cabin rental park south of town. He was speaking at a Grand County Planning Commission meeting where participants were discussing a new ordinance that would codify camp parks as long term housing for local workers—Stott thinks it’s a good idea.
The ordinance would amend the land use code to carve out a definition of camp parks or alternative dwelling developments, such as tiny homes, where locals could reside legitimately without violating county camping laws. Developments under the ordinance would not be allowed to operate on a nightly-rental basis. County officials have been working on the new code for months, and are nearing a final draft, which will go before county commissioners at their Sept. 6 meeting.
The Contractor’s Roost
Stott’s business is an example of one way an alternative dwelling development might manifest. He manages 27 units, a mix of RV sites and small cabins—all available only as long-term rentals, not on a nightly basis.
Stott is a drywall contractor and has been in Moab for close to 30 years. He recognized the urgent need for housing when he tried to hire more workers from out of town, but couldn’t find anywhere affordable to lodge them. Local motels were an option during the winter months, with off-season prices, but much too expensive to use during the high seasons. Stott located and purchased a piece of property in the highway commercial zone and went through the county’s process to obtain a conditional use permit to construct a campground. The park has been open for over three years. Stott’s permit allows him to run an overnight rental business, but he says he doesn’t have interest in, or time to, manage that style of business.
“All I really wanted is long-term,” he said.
The Contractor’s Roost stays at near 100% occupancy, usually with a waiting list of about 30 people. It can take three to six months on the waiting list before a spot opens up, Stott said. The park doesn’t just house contractors: Stott said there are employees of hotels, the hospital, the city and county, and a couple of business owners in residence now. Some people stay for just a few months; some residents have been there since he opened. Some are single people; others are couples or families.
An urgent crisis
County officials are hoping to spur the development of more homes attainable to local workers and families like those who live at the Contractor’s Roost. The draft ordinance cites statistics that demonstrate the urgent need for more housing: over 250 people have sought homelessness services from local service organizations so far this year; there are over 50 people on waitlists for apartment complexes; 65% of of employers responding to a county survey said they’ve lost an employee due to the housing crisis.
Earlier this year, the county issued a compliance order to the owners of local guide company Navtec for a property where employees were allowed to camp for free. Navtec provided a regularly serviced portable toilet and a tank for potable water, but the residents, camped in tents or vehicles, were technically in violation of county camping ordinances. The incident highlighted the fact that many people illegally camping have no viable, legal alternative. The idea of an alternative dwelling solution was already under consideration by county staff, and this summer, the concept gained more traction. County planning staff and planning commissioners have held public meetings, solicited public comments, and held lengthy, detailed discussions at public planning commission meetings. At their Aug. 22 meeting, planning commissioners honed more details on the draft and voted unanimously to send it on to the County Commission with a favorable recommendation.
The proposal is for a pilot program that will be capped at 300 units or one year, whichever comes first. If the ordinance is approved, employers or developers may apply to establish an “alternative dwelling development” where RVs, KOA-style cabins, tiny homes, modular homes, or camper vans can be used as long-term residences. Applications will be reviewed by both the Planning Commission and the County Commission, and evaluated legislatively with considerations of the proposed development’s impacts on traffic, noise and other potential nuisances; relative benefit on supply of workforce housing; and whether the location is appropriate in relation to work centers and commute time. The developments must be served by public water and sewer, either through individual site hookups or communal facilities, including bathrooms and a communal kitchen area with potable water. The minimum lot size for an alternative dwelling development is 0.5 acres, with up to four sites allowed per every 0.5 acre. Density will be limited to the maximum lot coverage of the underlying zone.
Navtec manager Brian Martinez has been working with county officials and closely following the evolution of the camp park ordinance, hoping he’ll be able to turn the cited property—which residents call “the Swamp,”—into a legal place where guides can continue to find a safe, affordable living solution.
“It’s not really my ideal solution,” Martinez said of the draft’s current form. “But on the other hand, maybe this is our only chance of getting a place for these people.”
Bringing “the Swamp” into compliance has an extra layer of complexity because it lies in a floodplain. Installing a bath house, Martinez said, could cost $200,000; he estimates that just the impact fees will cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“Believe it or not, little raft companies don’t make that much money,” he said.
He’s also worried about a lapse clause included in the draft. Once an alternative dwelling overlay application is approved, the applicant has six months to have a site plan approved and two years to obtain a certificate of occupancy, or the approval will lapse. Martinez said Navtec had a standard building constructed on its main property, and it took nine months for those plans to be approved.
“Two years seems short,” Martinez said. He’s also not convinced that an outdoor kitchen is necessary, as many guides spend as little as two nights a week at the site, and are otherwise on trips. Residents of the Swamp already had access to the amenities required in the ordinance, he said—just in a more affordable format.
“To me, there’s no real difference other than a bunch of money that you put into this thing,” he said.
Still, he said, “I also don’t want to lose the opportunity—if this is what it takes, this is what it’s going to have to take and we’ll have to follow those guidelines.”
Currently, Navtec has an extension on the compliance order until October.
At an Aug. 3 town hall and at Planning Commission meetings, several members of the public, including Stott, expressed support for the alternative dwelling overlay. However, County Commissioner Trisha Hedin, who serves as the liaison to the Planning Commission, said she’s heard a lot of pushback, especially from Spanish Valley residents. The County Commission has also received letters of opposition, she said. People are concerned about the potential density, traffic, and nuisances that could accompany these types of developments—they’re also fed up with existing illegal rental operations going in their neighborhoods.
Planning Director Elissa Martin and Planning Commission Chair Emily Campbell pointed out that the ordinance, if passed, would offer an avenue to bring those illegal rentals into compliance: bring them up to code and assess impact fees for water and sewer hookups, or order them to cease operations if they’re renting short-term.
Hedin noted that if there’s public support for the proposal, it would be best communicated to the County Commission through submission of supportive letters.
“Right now, we’re getting a lot of opposition,” she said.
Stott, for one, thinks such a measure is overdue, and he looks forward to its passing with the hope of expanding the Contractor’s Roost. He plans to add around 20 more units, and he hopes that his park can qualify as an alternative dwelling development and he can start paying lower taxes and impact fees. Right now, he’s charged the same rates as an overnight accommodations business, even though he doesn’t offer nightly rentals. If he has to pay those higher rates to expand, he said, he’ll have to pass some of the cost on to his residents by raising his rental rates.
Stott said he’s watched some residents use the Contractor’s Roost as a stepping stone to more traditional housing, staying for a few months and getting established until they can find and afford a house or manufactured home.
“It’s a nice transition of letting people have a place to live while they work on their futures,” he said.
The camp park ordinance is just one approach, aimed at one segment of the population, the county is using to try to address the housing crisis. Build-out of the county’s High Density Housing Overlay is ongoing, and officials have said they may consider another round; the Economic Development Department expanded its STAR grant program with about $46,000 more to be dedicated specifically to workforce housing projects; the county is also pursuing an ordinance that would require a local workforce deed-restriction on a portion of all new developments. To learn more about the alternative dwelling overlay draft ordinance and the county’s other housing projects, visit www.grandcountyconnects.com.