[Moab Sun News file photo]

The Walnut Lane affordable housing project has taken its next step: on April 11, the city council voted to begin contract negotiations with Columbus Pacific Development. 

“I think this has been a long time coming—we’re excited to move forward with this,” said Mayor Joette Langianese. 

What city staff refer to as “Walnut Lane” is a neighborhood of mobile homes at 250 and 280 Walnut Lane near Swanny Park. In 2018, the city bought the trailer park with the hopes of turning it into an 80-unit affordable housing complex, which would both re-house the current tenants and provide affordable housing for other Moab locals. However, the project faced multiple setbacks: in fall 2021, it returned back to phase one after the city ended its contract with a construction company; in March of last year, the city decided to pursue a public-private partnership, in which the city would lease the property to a developer who would manage, complete, and operate the project. Twenty-six families currently live in the property.

The city received two project proposals; during the April 11 City Council meeting, council members discussed the proposal submitted by the firm Columbus Pacific Development (CPD). The firm has completed many affordable housing projects in Park City and Salt Lake City; it also worked on plans for Arroyo Crossing in Moab.

The firm’s proposal could house as many as 288 individuals, and the firm said it was willing to work with city staff to resolve any discrepancies. 

The conceptual plan includes a mix of nine three-bedroom homes, 36 two-bedroom duplexes, and two buildings of “co-living studio” units. Each co-living unit would have one common area and kitchen, shared by multiple private bedrooms. In the proposal, CPD said these units may be desirable to future residents as a way to “lower the base rent for residents and accommodate a more social environment for singles and couples.” 

“Our research has shown that generally lower-paying jobs are filled by younger people, who gravitate towards social living arrangements, primarily due to the much lower available rents,” the proposal says. The Slopeside Village project in Park City utilizes this design. 

The proposal lists starting rent for each unit: 

  • Six of the nine three-bedroom homes will be “affordable” units, with a starting monthly rent at $1,595; three of the nine three-bedroom homes will be “market” units, with a starting monthly rent at $2,195. 
  • 25 of the two-bedroom duplexes will be “affordable” units, with a starting monthly rent at $1,395. 11 units will be “market” units, with a starting monthly rent of $1,795. 
  • All of the co-living units will be “affordable,” with a starting monthly rent of $895 and $995 for couples. 

CPD believes these units could house up to 288 people.  The company estimated the total project cost to be around $21.5 million but also estimated it could bring in at least $1.5 million per year in rent, with rent increases each year. In the city’s most ideal timeline, the project would be completed by 2026. 

“One of the things we really appreciated about Columbus Pacific was their willingness to really understand the needs of the community and establish that before moving forward with the project,” said City Finance Director Ben Billingsley. 

Councilmembers said they were excited to move the project forward and about the proposal CPD created. 

“I’m just shocked it’s really only been five years I’ve laid awake and worried about Walnut Lane,” said Councilmember Tawny Knuteson-Boyd. “It seems like much longer … when we acquired this property, I thought, ‘This is a good thing we’re protecting that.’ And lots of times [lying awake], I have wondered if we really did do the smart thing. We learned that we are not developers, and we’re not very good landlords, but our former mayor had a vision, and she sold it. I’m glad to see this coming together.” 

The motion to begin contract negotiations passed unanimously.