Our elected officials are tasked to do what is best for the 5,000 residents of Moab and 10,000 residents of Grand County. The overwhelming majority of these 10,000 express that we have enough hotels and other overnight accommodations and we do not want any more of the problems that come with them.
Don’t take my word for it: the evidence is in face-to-face conversations, online community groups, in the newspapers and in the comments and petitions to our city, county and Landmark Design. Last month, a petition of more than 700 signatures completely opposed to more overnight accommodations was gathered in four days. This is unprecedented, and the implications need to be understood.
In addition to the speed at which 700 people united, the signors are not of a single faction (tree-huggers; gun-toters; white-collared; blue-collared; retired; young; rich; poor) but are members from all groups in Moab.
The reasons to remove overnight accommodations as a use by right throughout the city and county are numerous and diverse. Some people bring up natural resource limits: water supply, viewsheds, trail usage and quiet places. Others point out the present strain on our man-made infrastructure: traffic, emergency services, housing, retail and restaurant opportunities — which are made worse by more overnight accommodations. What do these arguments have in common? They are essential things we share and that affect us all collectively.
There are two groups that oppose the removal of overnight accommodations as a use by right: small commercial property owners and large commercial property developers.
Provisions are in place, or actively in the works, to protect active overnight accommodations and small property owners. Those who saw potential and got in early are protected. Those who were late to the gold rush or have been oblivious to the unchecked growth around them have lost their easy cash cow. But in removing overnight accommodations, the commercial property is still very valuable for financial gain, but with items that our residents (and tourists) can benefit from, such as restaurants, retail spaces, daycares, offices for medical professionals … an Indian restaurant built today would have a line out the door. There is so much money left to be made without overnight accommodations as a use by right that it is obvious who wants to make money with the community in mind, and who puts personal greed above all else.
We are hearing the same few voices in opposition over and over again. Their arguments are the same: “you are messing with my money” and with “my property rights.” Some owners even agree with the removal of use by right, but not on “my property.” They agree there is a problem, but they want to be personally exempted from the solution.
Property rights, like all Constitutional rights, are not without limits. You have freedom of speech but cannot yell “bomb” on an airplane and you cannot yell “fire” in a public space. You have a right to bear arms, but not fully automatic weapons. There are certain limits placed on rights for the protection of the general public. A person can have commercial property on which one can make a ton of money, yet in certain circumstances, not be allowed to have a specific use for that property.
The bottom line: real estate is speculative. It always has been. I own property in Moab. Yes, I would like for the value to go up (it is my retirement plan) but it doesn’t matter if I put my money in real estate, the stock market, or bet it on the Super Bowl; no matter how ironclad it may seem or how much research I have done, it is a speculative investment and I could win or lose in the end. And while a bad call or injury might upset the Super Bowl and I lose all my money, the property owners here are not losing it all, they are losing only the potential for the easiest return on investment — potential that gives nothing back to the community at large, and creates more strain on the sectors mentioned above. Again, if a property owner is now unable to flip their land to a hotel developer, there is still a lot of money to be made for relatively little effort in any number of other commercial ventures.
Our community of 10,000 will see if our council members are hearing not only the majority’s opinion, but the extensive and compelling reasons to pause new overnight accommodations and allow our community to restore the balance that is needed in our unique and special home.
Russell Facente has lived in Moab for 10 years, but has been witnessing the changes for much longer.