Rising tourist visitation, a proliferation of new hotels and a lack of affordable permanent housing have put pressure on local governments to come up with a vision for the future of overnight lodging developments.
After instituting six-month moratoriums on new hotel and motel construction, both the city and the county have been working out extensive design standards to guide future developments, outlining requirements in areas like energy efficiency, water use, retaining open space and aesthetics.
“I was quite excited to hear about some of the standards concerning water efficiency and those kind of things...I thought some of them sounded pretty progressive,” said Audrey Graham, one of the founders of the Moab Area Community Land Trust, a nonprofit devoted to affordable housing in the Moab area.
Graham said that increased tourism and the associated construction of temporary lodging are a big factor in making affordable housing scarce.
“The low pay of the people who service those overnight accommodations makes it impossible for them to find a place,” Graham, who has worked for affordable housing in the area for 20 years, said.
“Those accommodations are actually moving into the neighborhoods and taking over housing that used to be available for people to live in,” she said.
The new standards created by Moab and Grand County are not intended to entirely halt development. However, the new requirements may narrow the field of developers wanting to undertake a project in and around Moab.
Liz Thomas lives in the Moab area and helped organize a citizens’ petition asking the city and the county not to approve any new overnight lodging projects until all those that are already approved are completed and their impact on the community is clear.
Thomas said that the councils are moving in the right direction, but that slowing down growth is more important than defining what that growth will look like.
“It's not about design standards,” she said. “The main issue is whether Moab is going to take control of its destiny and prevent tourist accommodation from crowding out all the things we love about our small-town community.”
Examining the Moab and Grand County Development Ordinances
Grand County passed its ordinance creating development standards for overnight accommodations on Jan. 7. The Moab City Council is still deliberating on the exact requirements and implementation of its standards. Throughout the process, the city and the county have tried to keep their codes as similar as possible.
The county’s code will be applied to new campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, and destination resorts as well as hotels and motels, while the city’s code will apply just to hotels and motels.
Here’s a breakdown of what the codes require, and where they differ as of now.
Implementation is the most significant difference between the city and county codes. The county is using “overlay zones” to define areas in the county in which new overnight accommodations may be built. In evaluating each project application, the County Council will consider the desired ratio of 1.4 overnight accommodation units to every one residential unit and any studies of the region’s population capacity. The Council will also consider if and how the development will add to the community and how developers plan to mitigate any negative impacts resulting from the project.
The city’s strategy, in contrast, is to amend existing underlying zoning regulations. The “RC-Resort Commercial” zone would be altered to allow new hotels and motels to be built in those areas, provided they comply with the other development standards.
In both the approved county code and in the city’s draft, developers are required to produce at least 80% of their energy needs on-site through renewable sources like solar panels. Projects must provide an annual report demonstrating compliance.
When applied to campgrounds, the county code applies only to buildings owned or managed by the campground, not to guests and their campers. For example, the energy costs of cooling a large RV would not be subject to the 80% rule.
This requirement was one of the more contentious standards discussed, and may still be revisited by the city as they refine their draft ordinance.
“It seemed like the 80% was really high,” said Amy Weiser, a representative of Business Resolutions LLC, which owns property in the city’s resort-commercial zone.
At a Nov. 21 City Planning Commission meeting, Weiser asked if other communities were successfully enforcing similar codes. Moab City Planner Nora Shepard noted that some communities have enacted “net zero” energy policies even more stringent than the 80% standard.
New developments governed by Grand County must install the largest “feasible” rainwater catchment system and use the water on site for landscaping, according to the new ordinance. The county code notes that the system does not have to be so large that it exceeds on-site needs. All landscaping must be drought-resistant, incorporate xeriscape design principles, and avoid traditional grass on more than 10% of the landscaped area. The landscaping must also incorporate bio-retention or bio-infiltration to manage stormwater runoff.
The county code also requires that a graywater system –to reuse relatively clean water, such as water used for bathing, for irrigation – be installed for all shared laundry and shared shower facilities.
The city is considering adopting a similar requirement in their draft ordinance.
Both the county and draft city code require that new overnight lodging development projects include a spot for a transit or shuttle stop and an enclosed bike storage area. Developments must also allow easements for public non-motorized trails in areas identified by the Grand County Non-Motorized Trails Master Plan. The county code also calls for at least two charging stations for electric vehicles for developments over 25 units.
Both codes call for transportation solutions that aim to reduce projected vehicle trips.
In the draft city code, this requirement doesn’t kick in unless a project is 40,000 square feet or larger.
As of now, this is one area where the two codes diverge.
The county requires only that new overnight accommodation developments comply with the existing Assured Housing requirements. These requirements direct developers taking advantage of high-density commercial overlay districts to either construct a percentage of affordable housing units, donate land to an entity that will create affordable housing, or pay “fees in lieu” to the county, depending on circumstances.
In contrast, the city’s draft requires that developers of any new overnight lodging devote an area at least 5% of the square footage of the building to “civic space or open space,” and 5% of the building to retail or “community commercial” uses. The city also provides incentives for planning additional commercial uses within the project, in the form of greater allowable building heights or square footage.
With the exception of the city’s draft ordinance including a base requirement that 5% of the square footage of the building be devoted to open space, the city’s draft code reflects the county’s code in their scaled requirements for open space. The size and contiguity requirements of the open space on the size of the development. For example, a one-acre or below development requires that 5% be devoted to contiguous open space. A development of five acres or bigger must devote 25% to open space with at least 7,500 square feet of that space being contiguous.
This is another area where the two codes look different.
Under the approved county code, developers must conduct a “viewshed analysis” showing the probable impact of proposed height and siting of structures on the visibility of surrounding landscape features. The maximum height of buildings is determined by the underlying zoning requirements if the viewshed analysis does not deem a lower height necessary. Building heights must also comply with ridgeline standards in existing county code which mitigate viewsheds on slopes.
In the city’s draft, buildings are allowed to be two stories tall with a maximum height of 30 feet. An additional story may be allowed if the developer commits to supplying more affordable housing than is required under city code or includes at least 20,000 square feet of commercial uses that benefit the community.
In the county’s code, the maximum building size for hotels and motels is 15,000 square feet and 35 bedrooms. The maximum total size for projects with multiple buildings is 50,000 square feet and 60 bedrooms. For a campground, the maximum size is 60 spaces.
In the city’s draft, the maximum gross square feet of any building is 20,000 square feet, and the maximum project size is 40,000 square feet. The developer can build up to an additional 20,000 square feet if it is devoted to mixed commercial use. The minimum parcel size for new development is two acres unless the lot is already smaller — in other words, a developer may not subdivide a parcel to smaller than two acres.
Both the city and the county require project designs that fit the topography of the property and ban mass grading. Both require the primary entry to the building to face the roadway, or, if that’s not practical, the side facing the roadway must be an “appealing interface.”
The county code notes that off-street parking may be required as deemed necessary by county staff.
The draft city code goes further in dictating exterior site design. In the proposed ordinance, the scale, orientation, and design of the buildings must be cohesive with their surroundings, any mature trees removed must be replaced with three new plantings, and the site must be designed for efficient pedestrian, cycling, and vehicle traffic flow. The city code also specifies that delivery and trash loading areas must be screened from view and located out of the flow of regular traffic, and bans development in wetland areas.
Both the city and county sets of design standards require similar considerations in regards to building appearance. Both requirements include that facades be broken up every 30 linear feet by a horizontal or vertical shift and not exceed 60 feet overall; both require that designs must vary between facade divisions in material, color, scale or orientation of the material. No more than 30% of any facade may lack windows unless it is used for public art. Mechanical equipment such as air conditioning units is not to be placed on rooftops, if avoidable, and must be screened from view. Plastic and vinyl awnings are not allowed, and shutters must be sized to match their windows and be made of wood or another durable material.
The draft city code also requires that the second story of properties along the highway must be set back 15 feet from the bottom story and that for projects larger than 10,000 square feet, the project will have at least three different “visual building masses” with three different heights and planes.
Materials and Colors
The final category of requirements in both the city and county codes mandates that new overnight lodgings be made of durable materials such as stone, brick, adobe, wood, fiber cement board, metal, glass, or engineered stone and that colors be earth tones complementary to the surrounding landscape (except in the case of public works of art). Materials must be non-reflective unless they are part of energy or water efficiency infrastructure (such as solar panels).