North Main Street

[Moab Sun News file photo]

Councilmembers discussed major upcoming infrastructure projects at the Jan. 28 City Council regular meeting, as well as the annexation of property adjoining city limits and a resolution to oppose oil and gas leasing in the Sand Flats Recreation Area.

Highway widening

City Engineer Chuck Williams gave an update on several upcoming infrastructure projects, including the Downtown Parking Structure project, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) widening of Highway 191 on the north side of town, and the efforts to improve dispersed parking options and safety at intersections.

The highway widening and the parking structure projects generated the most discussion. The widening work had been projected to begin as early as this January, but was delayed when the lowest contractor bid received came in at more than 10% higher than UDOT engineers’ initial estimates.

Per UDOT policy, they had to apply to the Transportation Commission for additional funds, which were approved. UDOT is now in discussions with a contractor and work could begin in mid-March, several months later than initially scheduled. The project is expected to take at least a year to complete.

Councilmembers said they have been hearing complaints from residents and businesses that will be affected by the project that there has been no communication from the city or from UDOT on the schedule and the process.

Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton asked City Communications Manager Lisa Church to convey the council’s complaints, emphasizing that as far as communication “anything is better than nothing,” pointing out that even UDOT’s website has not been updated with information on the project.

“Starting a project in March, in our busiest season, for the town, is really problematic,” she said.

Parking structure

The downtown parking structure planned for the city-owned lot on Center Street, between 100 W and Main Street, is tentatively scheduled to be completed by the end of the fall in 2021, Williams said. Two citizens spoke before the council to suggest that the project be reconsidered and perhaps set aside, and the money allocated to it be spent on something more useful for the town.

“The parking structure is not solving an issue that we have,” said Michael Liss, adding that he thought that the structure would be “the ugliest building in town.”

“People don’t come to a small rural town to park in a parking structure. They just don’t do that,” said Liss, who frequently speaks out on regional transportation issues and is the chair of an informal Grand County transit study committee.

Liss referenced a parking study conducted by the city during the planning process for the structure. The study showed that the highest use of the lot studied was 62%. Planning experts say that a maximum use of 85% would indicate a parking problem.

The money for the structure comes from state funds earmarked for “Recreation Hotspots.” The council has not expressed interest in pulling out of the project.

“It’s almost like you guys don’t feel empowered to take control of this process,” Liss said.

Grand County Councilmember Curtis Wells also addressed the City Council in the “citizens to be heard” section of the meeting. Wells said that when the recreation hotspot money was earmarked in 2017, local officials and stakeholders formed a steering committee to list potential projects that would be eligible for the funds.

One popular idea, Wells said, was the Main Street bypass project that has been discussed by councils and citizens in various forms for many years.

“The theme and the goal was the need to own our main street,” Wells said of discussions. “Highway 191 is like having I-70 through the middle of your town, and the volume is going to continue to increase.”

He urged the City Council to ask that the money allocated for the parking structure be used for one of the other projects brainstormed by the committee.

“To say we’re too far down the road, UDOT’s going to get upset if we decide to rearrange our list, I don’t agree with that,” said Wells. “If there’s merit to rearranging that list to better serve the community, I don’t think that’s out of turn or out of question.”

“I’d like to see the city and the county get back on board with the bypass, because that’s what drove the train in the beginning,” he added.

Williams also presented to the council UDOT plans to improve safety at six traffic signals in town by adding traffic light stacks on poles at the sides of the intersections so they are more visible.

“Trucks are so tall that people can’t see the traffic signals when they’re blocked out by the tractor trailers,” Williams said.

Potential Annexation

The land on which a 120-room hotel is planned is on its way to being annexed into the City of Moab. The development firm Lions Back Holdings, LLC has petitioned the City of Moab for 3.12 acres of property at 938 and 940 South Main Street be added to the city. The property is currently located in unincorporated Grand County but abuts Moab boundaries. This development is different than the similarly-named proposed Lionsback Resort development.

Councilmembers discussed a pre-annexation agreement at the meeting; actual annexation will be voted on at a later meeting after a public hearing process.

City Manager Joel Linares outlined the pros and cons of annexation, noting that the city will be able to collect sales tax and transient room taxes from the business if it lies within city boundaries. Niehaus added that the annexation would also align with the city’s long term annexation plan. However, the city will be responsible for providing municipal services like law enforcement and snow removal.

Under the agreement, the zoning of the parcel would be C-4 General Commercial, and the overnight accommodations project, which is in the application process with Grand County, would be considered “established,” and therefore an existing legal use in C-4. The lodging project will not be subject to the new development standards being discussed and refined by the city council and city staff. Instead, the pre-annexation agreement specifies a set of standards, which are similar to but not as stringent as the city’s current draft standards.

A motion to approve the pre-annexation agreement passed by a vote of 3-2, with councilmembers Rani Derasary and Mike Duncan in opposition, councilmembers Guzman-Newton and Tawny Knuteson-Boyd voting in favor. Councilmember Kalen Jones was absent and Mayor Emily Niehaus broke the tie with an “aye” vote.

Moab City Council Meetings are held every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the City Center Council Chambers (217 E Center Street). Meeting are also live-streamed on the Moab City Youtube channel.