The Grand County Council and the San Juan County Commission met for a rare joint meeting on Monday, June 10, at the Old Spanish Trail Pavilion. On the agenda was a discussion about a truck stop development near the counties’ shared boundary, potential changes to Utah’s Transient Room Tax and cost-sharing for emergency services.
Over 50 local residents attended the joint meeting, many involved with the Northern San Juan County Coalition. The citizens’ group formed in protest of the proposed development of a Love’s Travel Stops truck stop planned for Spanish Valley, an area near U.S. Highway 191 about 7 miles south of Moab, voicing concern about the location’s close proximity to a residential neighborhood.
The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) would receive about $1.2 million through a proposed contract to sell 13 acres to Love’s. Its truck stop plan would entail building 53 bays for tractor-trailers, officials said.
SITLA Director Dave Ure was in attendance to answer questions from residents about his organization’s sale of land for the truck stop.
The meeting began with public comment on the continued controversy.
Patrick Baril, a member of the Northern San Juan County Coalition, emphasized that the citizen group’s concerns are on the impact to the quality of life in both Grand and San Juan counties.
“Idling noise, air, light … they do not stop at county lines, they don’t have boundaries,” he observed, “so they need to be controlled.”
Other speakers echoed the need for increased cooperation and consistency across counties.
“One of the key reasons for this meeting that we’re having with San Juan County,” said Grand County Council vice chair Terry Morse, “is the fact that we are two different counties in the same geographical area. So we need to work together to come up with the best solutions for all.”
MORATORIUMS: A PAUSE ON DEVELOPMENT
After the public comment time concluded, council members and commissioners began questioning each other about the respective procedures in each county.
Grand County Council member Mary McGann questioned the intent of a recent moratorium on development within the highway commercial area in northern San Juan County.
San Juan County Commissioner Ken Maryboy confirmed that the moratorium was in response to community outcry about the Love’s development.
“I’m an economic development-driven kind of guy, but I would rather listen to the people that’s going to be impacted before I shove anything down their throat,” he said.
San Juan County Administrator David Everitt reported that it was still unclear whether the moratorium would indeed have any impact on the Love’s truck stop development.
In response to a question from their San Juan counterparts, Grand County officials reported that results from their own moratorium on overnight accommodations in the county were imminent.
“I think that the public will see proposed ordinances coming from the studies that have been done and the debates that have been had,” Morse said. “Those drafts should be showing up pretty quickly in the media and as public information.”
Officials all agreed on the need to advocate for changes in state law governing the Transient Room Tax (TRT).
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams proposed working with state legislators to introduce bills to “proportion the TRT money so that more can be spent on roads and infrastructure.”
Everitt agreed and said, “It seems like an opportunity for the two counties to speak in a unified voice.”
COST-SHARING FOR EMERGENCY SERVICES
Common ground wasn’t as easy to find on the issue of cost sharing for emergency services and road maintenance. San Juan officials said large Moab-area events like Jeep Safari result in a financial burden on the county’s emergency services.
Morse indicated that both counties would have to gather data about specific costs before any discussion.
“And then in another meeting,” Adams said with a laugh, “we’ll sit down and arm wrestle.”
HARD QUESTIONS FOR SITLA DIRECTOR
Rising to address the continuing controversy over the Love’s truck stop development, Ure indicated he felt he was addressing a hostile crowd.
“I didn’t come here to fight, but I did come here to inform,” Ure said, responding to charges that SITLA’s process lacked public input. “I hope to be able to at least try to explain to you where we’re coming from.”
In his organization’s defense, Ure pointed to provisions in the contract with Love’s that addressed local concerns about light pollution, saying that the development “will have as little impact as possible on surrounding neighborhoods”
However, he was emphatic that, despite the homes in the area, the property in question was appropriate for a truck stop.
The lots along the highway were “zoned commercial-industrial many years ago,” he observed. “I’m sorry to have to be that blunt, but that is what the code is saying today”
After the meeting formally concluded, residents largely ignored their elected officials and surrounded Ure, questioning why SITLA approved the Love’s truck stop development so close to a residential neighborhood.
The SITLA director did not have comforting words for them.
“My understanding is that numerous houses are built within the industrial zone,” he said while residents cried out in dissent, “so you need to go back to your county and address that.”
Carolyn Dailey, another member of the Northern San Juan County Coalition, replied by saying, “We know you have the authority to do what you’re doing. We’re just saying it’s not right, and you also have a duty to the public welfare.”
The short confrontation ended without agreement.
Spanish Valley resident Sue Baril expressed hope that the joint meeting would begin to clarify local government processes and ease tension “so that planning can be dealt with constructively, and in a way that neighbors don’t have to be at each other’s throats.”
“If you can get together like you are here today, you may not be happy,” Ure said in a summary of the entire meeting, “but at least you’ll understand where everybody else’s opinion is coming from.”
According to the Grand County Council, the truck stop plan has not been finalized. Following the joint council meeting, the Grand County Council held a special meeting the following day, on June 11, and approved sending a letter to Love’s stating, “We regard one of our most important duties as a responsible council is to encourage businesses to augment what is offered here. But in the case of Love’s decision to create a large truck stop in the midst of a long-established residential area in Spanish Valley, we actively oppose it.”