Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story appears in print. This story was updated on July 18.
The Grand County Council met on July 18 for a special meeting and voted 5-0 to pass an ordinance that removes rights to build nightly rentals in all zoning districts in the county.
Current vested projects for nightly rentals that are in various stages of development are allowed to continue as previously planned.
The council had voted on a similar ordinance on Tuesday, July 16; with the council’s 3-3 tied vote, the ordinance had failed (see story below "Tied vote leaves property rights as is").
At the July 18 meeting, council members Rory Paxman and Curtis Wells were absent, and council member Jaylyn Hawks said she was traveling internationally but called in and participated in the vote by phone.
Hawks stated a disclosure that she has a personal interest in nightly rentals — she said she owns a bed-and-breakfast, but said participating in decision-making about nightly rentals does not create a benefit to her financially.
No discussion about the ordinance took place among the council members.
Prior to this meeting, starting at 10:02 a.m., the Moab Sun News sent emails to each council member asking for their reaction to the tied vote taken earlier this week. So far the Moab Sun News has not received any responses in writing from any council member as of 7 p.m.
According to an email notification received by the Moab Sun News from Grand County’s online server list, a new public notice was posted on the county’s website at 1:52 p.m. yesterday that a 2 p.m. special meeting would take place the next day. Public notice must be given at least 24-hours in advance of a meeting.
Although the Moab Sun News received the email notification that a “new agenda” was posted at 1:52 p.m. on July 17, the link to that new agenda has since been changed. The original public notice posted at 1:52 p.m. was updated today and now says it was updated at 3:09 p.m. — an hour after the meeting began. The new update made at 3:09 p.m. appears to include the documents voted on at the meeting.
About 30 people attended today’s meeting. No public comments were allowed from those in attendance. Following the meeting, Grand County Council member Mary McGann cited legal advice received from an attorney to not allow for public comments concerning the agenda.
The Moab Sun News spoke with several people after the meeting who wanted to give comments. Comments ranged from people in support of the measure, to people who said they are now suing the county council and each member individually in response to today’s decision. The Moab Sun News will keep the community updated if any formal legal action is taken. Comments gathered by the Moab Sun News after the meeting on July 18 will be included in the next article.
TIED VOTE LEAVES PROPERTY RIGHTS AS IS
Private property developments, mosquito abatement, taxes and future housing development occupied the meeting of the Grand County Council on Tuesday, July 16.
MOSQUITO ABATEMENT CONTINUES
Council members on Tuesday approved the purchase of a new machine for chemical spraying and aerial mosquito treatments for the county. An unusually wet year helped in the proliferation of mosquitoes across the city and county, leading to a slew of problems as the county’s aging equipment broke down numerous times. On July 1, Moab Mosquito Abatement District Manager Libby Nance attempted to tender her resignation, citing a lack of appropriate staffing, decrepit equipment, and a failure in planning for this high-water year. Her resignation was rejected by the board, though they have expressed that they understand her concerns and are attempting to address them.
Council members supported the emergency purchase of 3,000 pounds of larvicide using $50,750 in unbudgeted funds, with another $21,500 going toward the planes to deliver the larvicide in the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve.
Grand County Clerk Chris Baird reported that arrangements were being made with the mosquito abatement district to pay the county back for these expenses over time. He also noted the need for better longterm planning and cooperation.
“Obviously we knew the river was going to be high,” he observed, “and if we had a plan and the budget for it, it would have been a much smoother year.”
Moab is the first city in Utah to report finding mosquitoes infected with West Nile Virus this year.
REMOVING NIGHTLY RENTALS AS A RIGHT
An attempt to amend local laws to regulate private land in Grand County with a plan to remove nightly rental developments as a property right failed with a tied vote from council on Tuesday, July 16.
The Grand County Council’s vote comes weeks ahead of the August expiration of a moratorium on development that has so far prevented residents and developers from being approved for new permits for commercial lodging for nearly six months.
In that time, the council has heard an array of public comments from residents, developers and visitors. Some want to see more nightly rentals built in the county and city, or they want to see their rights to future development on their properties preserved in the current land use code, while others say they want to see stricter regulations and limits imposed to slow the growth of new nightly rental developments.
The ordinance drafted and presented to the council for a vote on Tuesday would have removed all nightly rentals from being allowable uses in the county. Allowable uses for nightly rentals would then be designated in certain areas with mapping overlays placed on top of existing nightly rentals.
The proposed measure, if passed, has already elicited comments from members of the public with local interests who say they intend to file lawsuits if the proposal to remove the property rights moves forward.
At the meeting, Grand County Council member Mary McGann made the motion to vote on the ordinance to change the county’s land use code and it was seconded by council member Terry Morse.
The drafted ordinance acknowledged the high number of visitors to nearby national parks, and said nightly rental accommodations to serve those tourists are being built “to the detriment” of other interests, such as residential housing or retail.
But two other council members gave public disclosures on their personal interests in the issue before the vote was taken. Council members Rory Paxman and Curtis Wells disclosed their interests.
Paxman said his family owns hotels and nightly rental businesses.
“My family gets money from those, I do not,” he said. “I have my own business. So, I will be voting no for this tonight.”
Wells did not explain his interests, but said “My boilerplate disclaimer is that I have interests in nightly accommodations.”
Council chair Evan Clapper then read the ordinance in its entirety; part of the ordinance is transcribed in this article as follows.
“Are you ready for a lot of ‘whereas’?” Clapper asked before he got started, referring the text of the ordinance that begins each paragraph with “Whereas...”.
As he read the ordinance, he explained the county adopted its land use code in 1999, but has since made “significant amendments” to align with the county’s general plan.
“Whereas, while the general plan acknowledges the important contribution of tourism to the local economy, it also states that growth and new business sectors should be balanced with tourism to achieve year-round economic diversification with higher-paying jobs,” Clapper read.
“Whereas,” Clapper continued, “to-date Grand County has allowed hotels, motels, campgrounds and RV parks, condominiums and townhomes used for overnight accommodations and bed-and-breakfasts — collectively ‘overnight accommodations’ — in certain base zones, districts within the county, as specified in (county land use code).
“Whereas, the rapid, ongoing and future growth of overnight accommodations contributes to increased tourism and visitation in the region, recreational assets that help to attract visitors have become crowded and heavily utilized. Between 2010 and 2018, visitation to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park increased 60.1% and 58.9% respectively, with Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park reporting 1,663,557 and 739,5449 recreational visits respectively, for a total of 2,403,006 recreational visits …
“Whereas, in recent years Grand County has received 48 permit applications for new construction of overnight accommodation developments and five permit applications for new construction of other commercial uses, amounting to a ratio of 9.6 to 1.
“Whereas, a nexus analysis studied by BAE Urban Economics verified and quantified the nexus between new lodging-related development and increased demand for below market rate housing.
“Whereas, market conditions and an increasing dependence on tourism have resulted in overnight accommodations being developed to the detriment to the development of other necessary uses, including retail, commercial, office and housing uses.”
Included in the rest of the ordinance he read were the total numbers on nightly rentals vested in the county. In total, Grand County has 40% more nightly rental units (4,525) than it does primary residential units (3,240). There are potentially 1,600 more nightly rental units planned, for a 38% increase that will push the number of nightly rentals up to 6,245 units — nearly the double of primary residential units, Clapper said.
“That was all the whereas’,” Clapper said as he finished reading the ordinance.
Council member McGann made the motion to approve of the ordinance and it was seconded by council member Terry Morse.
No discussion took place among the council members on the proposal. Council member Jaylyn Hawks was absent from the meeting; she has disclosed in past meetings that she owns nightly rental accommodations in the community. She was also absent at the Dec. 18 meeting when a vote was taken on whether to approve high-density housing.
Moving on to the vote, the 3-3 tie resulted from Clapper, McGann and Morse voting in favor, with Paxman, Wells and Halliday in opposition.
People who were seated in the council’s chambers began clapping at the decision.
Council moved on to its next agenda items, during which time Morse stood up, put his hat on and left without an explanation. Morse stopped by the Moab Sun News office on Wednesday, July 17, and indicated he may resign from council. County administrator Ruth Dillon said on the same day that “everything is up in the air” with Morse.
NEGOTIATING A CHANGE TO THE TRT
County officials talked about how best to advocate for changes in state law governing the Transient Room Tax (TRT) at a town hall meeting with the Utah State Legislature Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force this Saturday, July 20.
Under current state law, a portion of the TRT funds are required to be dedicated to tourism advertising, a sore spot for busy tourist destinations like Moab, as costs escalate for providing services to tourists.
“I would like to see resort communities treated differently than nonresort communities,” McGann said.
“Something needs to change there,” council member Greg Halliday said, who said the restrictions on how TRT is spent isn’t helping to meet the shortfalls in emergency medical services needed to serve tourists.
“I think that we start with the dream scenario, then kind of work backward,” Clapper said.
A SUNSET FOR HIGH DENSITY OVERLAY?
After the meeting ran over 4 hours, McGann moved to postpone discussion on the High Density Housing Overlay Sunset Clause, noting that council members Morse and Hawks were not present.
“I was really just wanting to get some information flowing since this is something we’ve been tiptoeing around, and we need to do something,” Wells said. “I’m not in a rush to come to any conclusions, though.”
He said the public has questions that need to be answered.
“There’s a lot of discussion in the community about how many units the High Density Housing Overlay is responsible for in the pipeline and does that include the Arroyo Crossing development,” Wells said, referring to the 300-unit development proposed by the nonprofit Moab Area Community Land Trust.
“I want to have the discussion, it’s extremely important,” McGann replied, suggesting a thorough debate on the future of the High Density Housing Overlay will happen at one of the next council meetings.
Moab Sun News Editor Ashley Bunton contributed to this report.