By a 3-0 vote on Aug. 14, the commission tabled a request that could allow landowners near the proposed Lionsback Resort development to annex smaller properties into the city limits under the sensitive-area resort zone. Planning commission members Jeanette Kopell and Laura Uhle were absent from the meeting.
Moab City Planning Commission chairwoman Kelly Thornton said she is not necessarily opposed to the idea of annexing nearby properties into the sensitive-area resort zone. However, she questioned whether the city should be taking steps right now to encourage the development of more nightly vacation rental units in Moab.
“I don’t think that we have enough evidence that it will be a benefit to the community to make this particular change,” Thornton said.
The city created the zone in the Sand Flats Road and Lion’s Back areas to accommodate master-planned, resort-style communities, which may include a mix of private residences, overnight rentals and commercial businesses.
According to city code, sensitive-area resort zoning regulations are designed to preserve the surrounding landscape’s natural look and character. Among other things, they set limits on building heights, restrict development on each individual property, preserve open space and aim to minimize light pollution in the night sky.
Applicant Sue Dalton is asking the city for one change to the current zoning code: an amendment that would reduce the minimum size of developments in the zone from 40 acres to 24 acres.
Dalton believes the proposal could benefit neighboring property owners who might want to annex their land into the city limits.
Under the current restrictions, some of those properties are not big enough to be incorporated into the zone. But the proposed amendment would give those property owners the leeway to develop resort-style projects on their land.
“The properties that we’re thinking would benefit from this would continue, kind of, that same type of development,” Dalton said.
The planning commission previously continued its July 10 public hearing on the matter in order to gather more feedback about the proposal. Yet once that continued hearing came to an end on Aug. 14, Thornton said she doesn’t believe she has enough information to make any recommendations to the city council.
In the future, Thornton said she wants to see a more detailed examination of the potential impacts that the change could have on the city’s water and sewer services. In addition, she would like to know how it could impact the availability of affordable housing in Moab.
“I think it would be irresponsible of us to do anything at this point that just points in the direction of making it easier to bring in more nightly rental units, without taking a look at those issues,” she said.
In a written narrative on the proposal, Dalton acknowledged Moab’s workforce housing needs. However, she wrote that some areas in the valley are more conducive to resort communities that mix private homes with overnight rentals and commercial activities.
“This could bring in more tax dollars and help preserve the beauty that attracts these people to our area in the first place,” she wrote.
Dalton believes the proposal would have another significant benefit to the public.
If smaller private properties near the Lionsback Resort are annexed into the city, utilities could be routed through them. According to Dalton, that could spare the city and various utility companies the hassle of routing those services along narrow and busy Sand Flats Road in the event of future development.
“That takes out that impact of having to [limit traffic on] that road, which is huge for our community,” she told the planning commission.
Planning commissioner Wayne Hoskisson said he isn’t sure if the proposal would ultimately benefit the public interest, partly because Dalton didn’t come to the board with any specific development projects in mind.
“Part of it is, we’re not really looking at any kind of a development, so it’s hard to know whether we’re really talking about something that’s beneficial or not,” he said.
But neighboring property owner Dave Cozzens — the only member of the public who spoke at the hearing — threw his support behind the proposed change.
“I feel like what they’re wanting to do is worthwhile,” he said.