Last year, the City of Moab purchased a 2.95-acre parcel of land on Walnut Lane with the goal of creating an affordable housing development. The city closed on the land deal in November of 2018 with a purchasing price of $1,815,000.
The proposed affordable housing units will replace an existing trailer park, which had around sixty residents at the time of purchase. When the lot was purchased, council members had hoped that the planning and building steps would move along more quickly than they have.
“The timeline hasn't played out exactly as we had hoped,” said City Councilmember Tawny Knuteson-Boyd. “There have been some challenges and some situations beyond the City's control that have required staff time and energy to resolve, but they have done so.”
“For now, the overall vision for Walnut Lane is to have a mix of densities and unit types - from apartment buildings to fourplexes, duplexes, and small single units,” said Kaitlin Myers, senior project manager for Moab City, in an Oct. 7 press release. Myers’ primary focus in the near future will be advancing the project.
“The development will follow the best sustainability and design practices, and a master plan will ensure cohesiveness as it is built out,” Myers said.
Council members remain hopeful about the project, in spite of delays. Several council members running for reelection this fall have pointed to the Walnut Lane purchase as an achievement they are proud of, including Knuteson-Boyd.
“It's come to be much more of a human, humane and personal issue to me,” she said of the housing crisis. “It strikes me at my heart, and as a mother, when I hear that several families share a two or three bedroom apartment, children sleep on the floor, families live in cars, camp trailers, tents—and of course a good share of our seasonal workforce is couch-surfing or camping... I am hopeful that when Walnut Lane is complete it will at least provide a solution to some of those individuals or families.”
The next step in the process will be a change in zoning for the north part of the parcel.
Currently, the north side of the lot is zoned R-2, which, according to city code, is principally meant for one-household and two-household dwellings, characterized by spacious yards and residential amenities.
The south side is zoned R-4, which city code says is “characterized by open fields interspersed by well-maintained mobile home parks, mobile home subdivisions, and other types of dwellings.” R-4 zoning allows for apartment buildings as well as mobile homes.
Myers and staff will apply to have the whole property rezoned to R-4.
“It is best planning practice to correct split-zoned parcels, and R-4 is the most appropriate zone for the current and proposed uses on the site,” Myers said.
Knuteson-Boyd foresees the rezoning going smoothly.
“The rezone is a pretty simple, straight forward process,” she said, noting that she expects there will be general support across the council and in the public.
“It's got to be a win-win situation to take a dilapidated, aged trailer park and upgrade it to a new, safe, clean modern apartment complex,” she said.
So far, there is no detailed plan of how the new housing units will be laid out, or how many there will be.
“Initially, it was determined that 80 units was the number needed to make the development work in terms of revenue to cover the city's costs,” said City Communications Director Lisa Church in an email to the Moab Sun News. “Much depends on the actual development plan for the project.”
Myers emphasized that “one of the highest priorities” of city staff has been to help residents transition as development advances. Knuteson-Boyd said city staff has consistently “treated the current residents of Walnut Lane with kindness and dignity” in all their interactions with the neighborhood.
Church confirmed that the Walnut Lane trailer park residents currently pay the same rent on their homes as they did before the city bought the property.
“Once the project is completed, the idea is that rents will be similar to current rent for those current residents who move into the new housing development,” Church said, adding, “Other factors, such as unit size, may have some impact on the rent charged on low-income units.”
Another possibility would be to create housing options for current Walnut Lane residents in another location.
“Offsite, the city has discussed the idea of partnering with local stakeholders to develop a mix of units for the residents of Walnut Lane, as well as additional workforce housing for the community,” said Myers.
For now, a property management company has been hired to oversee the site, with improved maintenance as a priority. Some of the structures on the property were in poor condition, and a fire on July 3 of this year completely destroyed one trailer and damaged others.
Two of the fire-damaged mobile homes have been removed from the site, potentially freeing up space to begin the project without displacing residents.
“The primary challenge with this first phase is to identify the best place to start – to identify a ‘hole,’ if you will, to build some higher density housing for the current residents to move into to make room for later phases on the site,” Myers said.
City staff and elected officials are pleased to see Myers stepping into the role of project leader. She has dedicated herself to finding affordable housing solutions in Moab since she arrived in 2016 as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in the Grand County Community and Economic Development Office. After her volunteer program ended, she was hired to continue her work on affordable housing in the department. She has also served on the board of the Moab Area Community Land Trust.
Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus praised Myers’ past work and expressed confidence that she would excel in her new role as Senior Project Manager.
“Kaitlin is truly dedicated to working to make Moab the best it can possibly be,” said Niehaus. “Her passion for finding solutions to our affordable housing crisis, and her knowledge and understanding of the Moab community will be a huge asset to Moab City’s team.”