Heavy equipment operators move dirt at the site of the former propane plant on Highway 191 just north of Slickrock Campground, where a 159-unit timeshare vacation project will be built. The Moab City Council on Tuesday joined Grand County in implementing a six-month moratorium on any new construction of overnight lodging. Projects already approved, like the one above, are exempt. Photo by Doug McMurdo
Following closely in the steps of its Grand County counterpart, Moab City Council passed its own six-month moratorium on the construction of new overnight accommodations. During its regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12, the four present council members voted unanimously to implement the moratorium for the maximum allowed time period.
Like the county’s moratorium, the one implemented by the city prohibits the development of new nightly rental uses, including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and other overnight accommodations. City Attorney Chris McAnany noted that developments that have already submitted complete applications will be exempted from the moratorium. The other major exemption is nightly rentals in commercial zones that are awaiting business licenses, McAnany said.
McAnany characterized the moratorium as an opportunity to look at future land use planning. The moratorium will provide a “temporary break in development” that allows city staff and the council to “study or enact new ordinances or regulations,” McAnany said.
While most people who spoke during the citizens to be heard portion of the meeting addressed the waste hauling contract also on the agenda, some residents expressed support for the moratorium. Of the four people who spoke on the issue, all were in favor of the measure.
Kiley Miller said she fully supports the moratorium because it is necessary to “stop this runaway train” as Moab continues to attract more visitors and the impacts they bring.
Former planning commissioner Wayne Hoskisson spoke in favor as well, calling it a “great idea.” The next six months can be used to come up with solutions to the worsening housing problem, Hoskisson said.
Two current members of the Grand County Planning Commission, Kevin Walker and Bob O’Brien, expressed their personal support of the moratorium.
Walker called the moratorium a “no-brainer,” also asking the council, “why wouldn’t you want to take a new look at hotels?” Walker said: “A no vote would mean you think everything is great the way it is. I don’t know many people who think that. The tough votes will come in the future when you decide what the long-term policy should be.”
O’Brien urged the council to pass the moratorium because it will help focus planning efforts on the issue of housing. “A moratorium will put pressure on you, and it will put pressure on your planning commission,” he said.
The council’s discussion was relatively short. Mayor Emily Niehaus described the moratorium as “a fire under our rocket to make us shoot off into the future of land use planning.” Niehaus said she is “excited for this fire” and noted that she and some council members campaigned on alleviating housing issues.
Niehaus said that with only six months to work, the council will “need to be on top of this” so they aren’t rushing to come up with policy as the moratorium deadline nears.
Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton said she is looking forward to working with the county to develop a shared vision for land use in the Moab Valley.
What will happen in the next six months is still uncertain. Council Member Mike Duncan asked what the process will be and what items may appear on future agendas. McAnany responded that the council will have to drive the new policy initiatives. To start, city staff will study what zones should allow overnight accommodations and look at possible changes to mixed-use, McAnany said.
“What’s very important to staff is that the council gives some direction about what kind of changes it wants to see in those zoning districts, so it’s wide open,” McAnany said.
City Manager David Everitt said that during its recent retreat, the council decided, should the moratorium pass, it would have to “recalibrate the future land use map process.” LandMark Consultants, the firm that was hired to assist with planning, will hold a workshop with the council in two weeks to get on that same page and set priorities, said Everitt.
“We’re going to have to make some serious choices as we move this process forward, so we need to be ready to do that,” said Niehaus. “This council is committed to do that … to get it done. And we’re going to rely heavily on the work of the consultants.”
Council Member Kalen Jones said, “This ordinance is actually a result of the overwhelming success of the tourism and lodging industry … but we’re a victim of our own success, and I really think we need a pause to complete some much-needed work to address broader community development concerns.” Jones cited the 2018 nexus study that established a connection between new nightly rental developments and a reduced supply of affordable housing. “I believe there is a compelling countervailing public interest to ensure that lodging uses are developed in a manner that complements the other needs of this city and its residents,” he said.
Guzman-Newton made the motion to implement the moratorium and Jones quickly seconded prior to the unanimous 4-0 vote. Council Member Rani Derasary was in Washington, D.C., and did not cast a vote. The moratorium took effect immediately after its passage.