A proposed parking garage in central Moab met with significant resistance from residents, business owners and some city councilmembers, who pointed to ballooning cost estimates, questions about community benefits and a city-commissioned parking study that some say shows little need for the project at all.
At the Feb. 11 Moab City Council meeting, citizens lined up to be heard on an agreement between the City of Moab and the Utah Department of Transportation to build a parking garage northwest of the intersection of Main and Center streets. An existing surface parking lot on the site would be replaced.
Matt Hancock, who owns property close to the proposed structure, was the first to speak out on the plans.
“I have lost all confidence in it,” Hancock said.
He outlined how the estimated budget for the project has grown rapidly, currently topping $10 million.
“It’s just under $60,000 for each parking spot,” said Hancock, “and frankly, that’s madness.”
He added, “It’s hopelessly overpriced, overscaled, may benefit the few at the expense of the many and may deprive the city’s residents of critical funds now and in the future.”
“I think Moab is a destination now,” said Jim Englebright, who opined that hopes for the city to remain a small rural town were naive.
He pointed to parking issues cities that developed without planning for increased visitation and encouraged city officials to support the garage.
Multiple attendees pointed to a parking management study commissioned by the City of Moab which observed parking trends in May 2018. The study, completed by Avenue Consultants, concluded that “Moab is in a good position with more total parking available than is needed to meet the demand.”
The report does support the possible creation of a parking structure but also recommends that the city develop better signage for existing parking, institute parking time limits in high traffic areas and create areas for parking oversized vehicles. Read the entire report on the Moab Sun News website
Concerns were also raised about the transparency of the planning process.
“We see the parking struggle,” said Ryan Bird, co-owner of Main Street businesses Doughbird and the Moab Garage, “but most of the arguments in favor [of the structure] benefit those that are directly next to it...I don’t see it as being a solution for Moab businesses or the community.”
“Because the garage exists in one centralized location, it will only benefit developers who have land immediately surrounding the complex, namely two well-known property owners,” echoed local business owner Wendell Williams.
Michael Liss, a consistent voice on transportation issues and head of a Grand County transportation committee, picked up on that theme and went even further.
“I have to mention the elephant in the room: Mike Bynum is the one benefiting 90% on this,” said Liss. “That doesn’t look right; that doesn’t feel right.”
Michael Bynum is a local developer and co-owner and manager of numerous Moab businesses including the Hoodoo Moab hotel, Aarchway Inn, and the Main Street restaurant Zax.
Bynum himself spoke at the meeting, pointing out that he had been involved in discussions with UDOT for years and urged cooperation between businesses and the state department.
Councilmembers speak out on plans
Moab City Councilman Mike Duncan put forth a motion to immediately suspend the Downtown Parking Structure project pending an in-depth discussion of how to use transportation funds.
Moab City Manager Joel Linares outlined three ways to proceed with the UDOT agreement: exiting the contract, continuing the contract or changing the terms of the contract.
Moab City Councilwoman Karen Guzman-Newton was clearly upset as she discussed how she felt that the project had been sped along without foundational conversations about budget and whether the project is even appropriate.
“This is public money. We have a responsibility to the community...It’s not free. It’s coming through taxes and UDOT,” said Guzman-Newton, stating she wanted to explore alternative ways of using UDOT money for other Moab City priorities.
She also pointed out that it was important to her that concerns about transparency be addressed.
“There have been questions raised about whether certain property owners stand to benefit from the construction of this project,” said Guzman-Newton. “In order for me to do my job and answer these questions, I would like to review those arrangements so that I can say that there has not been any quid pro quo.”
Guzman-Newton’s husband, Scott Newton, is the owner of Poison Spider Bike Shop on Main Street. Guzman-Newton recused herself from a discussion of dispersed parking options earlier on the council agenda.
“I’m seeing too many red flags and I have not seen any proof that this won’t cost the city,” she concluded, urging UDOT to sit down with councilmembers.
“I’m not ready to suspend or stop anything,” said Councilwoman Tawny Boyd, expressing her desire for the council to schedule a workshop to discuss the project in-depth.
“I’m not ready to scrap this,” she said, “this may not be the project for the time but we need time to decide what we want to do.”
Ryan Anderson, a project manager for UDOT, spoke in response to some of the issues raised, including the increased cost estimates for the project.
“We are not in an area that’s readily available to a lot of contractors who do this kind of work, so it’s a little bit expensive,” said Anderson, “I think it would be unwise to go into this with an expectation of a low budget.”
“Our mission isn’t just to move trucks through town,” said Ryan Anderson. “I don’t want this to appear that UDOT is shoving a parking structure down your throat.”
He acknowledged that communication had been problematic, but said he believed that the structure was “the best use” for the available property.
The council concluded the discussion by tentatively scheduling a workshop to discuss the project with UDOT officials for Feb. 18.