Impassioned residents and local lawmakers filled nearly every seat in the room at Moab’s Oct. 30 town hall meeting. A broad range of topics included water use, school funding, recycling and the plastic bag ban. But the primary concerns regarded the proposed high-density housing overlay zone.
A couple residents who lived in rural residential zones were disheartened by the proposed density numbers. One Spanish Valley resident told the council, “When I bought my house I expected my neighborhood would stay one house per acre. The plan suggests 35 units per acre. The numbers are extreme.” Other residents echoed her dismay.
County Council Member Evan Clapper replied, “High density overlay is an incentive; not everyone will be able to utilize it…It’s one tool in a much bigger toolbox. I would be amazed if more than three property owners took advantage of this. I think it's going to be a very slow pace getting rolled out.”
County Council Chair Mary McGann added, “Evan Clapper and I went to a lot of planning commission meetings and it’s not a done deal. There are a lot of areas that need to be tweaked, areas could be added, and areas that would be impacted negatively that I can’t support.”
County Council member Terry Morse added, “Please rest assured there’s going to be some really serious debate on this on a council level.”
Many of those same residents were also concerned with occupancy levels and believed that the changing of the word “family” to “household” in the code promoted “bunk-housing,” a phrase that was mentioned with aversion several times during the meeting.
Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus assured the audience that it was merely an occupancy implication, and that the verbiage change had no affect to the implication in either direction. She said there was a lot to revisit in the code revision. She also said that “household” was defined as a “maximum of four unrelated persons.” She said the city council would be addressing the occupancy issue at a Nov. 5 meeting.
One Moab citizen emphasized her concern with the remoteness of the proposed higher density location, expressing that the separated developments, if to occur outside of the downtown area, would be too far removed to be part of the community. In addition she brought up non-motorized transportation concerns, particularly for those that would qualify for the assured housing developments.
In all of the discussion regarding high-density housing, even the most disgruntled people admitted to a need to address the housing crisis. Niehaus brought attention to the fact that it’s “overly difficult to become a licensed building-contractor in town” and that she was putting deregulation over “who can swing a hammer” at the top of her list.
Grand County Council Vice Chair Curtis Wells was enthusiastic about the mayor proposing deregulation and said, “I’m going to put that on my list too.” Niehaus quipped to Wells, “Wow, we agree on something.” Wells responded, “We do.”
On the topic of recreation, McGann informed attendees that there was talk of a future plan to create a “bike path that would go all the way out to Ken’s Lake” to facilitate non-motorized transportation. Clapper also stated that the county was looking into possibly creating a “parks department” that would evaluate lost space where weeds are over-growing, and possibly use them as community park areas.
As for water concerns, one resident brought up his own tourism experience in the arid city of Las Vegas, citing his appreciation for his hotel’s mandatory “low-flow shower heads” as a concept local hotels should be required to adopt.” Niehaus replied, “We talk about low-flow a lot.” McGann added, “We’re lucky we’re not mining right now. Currently we’re not taking more than we’re using.” Wells said, “The water board is a really good board. I encourage people to attend those meetings.”
Though it was at the top of the list of topics to be discussed at the meeting, only one citizen came forth to oppose the plastic bag ban slated to take place the first of the new year. His concern was that it would create longer lines at the already congested grocery stores.
McGann said, “Elaine Gizler of the Travel Council is assuring us that information about the plastic bag ban is “right front and center” for tourists when they come to Moab and added, “Plastics are killing our country.” Comments from others noted that “promotional dollars are being used to deliver bags to hotels,” and that “every business has the opportunity to charge for bags.” Niehaus reminded the audience that it was a ‘plastic’ bag ban. “You can still get paper bags.”
City Council Member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd finalized the discussion on bags by saying, “Our tourists can read; they can read that they need to bring their own bags. The animals can’t (understand); our watershed can’t; our environment can’t.”
Problematic issues concerning plastics have become elevated along with the decline of the Canyonlands Recycling Center. McGann said, “They are still open but in transition,” and although the center has limited some plastics they receive, “The carbon print of shipping those plastics is greater than what’s saved from recycling them.
“We are waiting for a lot of moving parts to come together,” said McGann. She brought up the three R’s citizens can adopt in improving waste management: “Reducing, reusing, repurposing,” plus one other: “Now we have ‘Refuse,’ we can refuse to buy things we don’t need or that can’t be recycled.” In reference to complaints that the city wasn’t recycling the glass it received, she revealed the superiority of repurposing to recycling. With no transportation costs and remanufacturing costs, “It’s a step above.”
The meeting occupied a full two hours. Niehaus reflected on the arduousness of the day for everyone and ended things on a positive note: “I hope you all have ice cream waiting at home.”