At their regular meeting on July 28, the Moab City Council discussed two policy changes being crafted by city staff: a temporary avenue for local restaurants to create outdoor dining areas and a formal procedure for collecting public input on proposed uses of city property.

Outdoor dining

In many areas impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor dining has been permitted to accommodate restaurants looking to expand their business while allowing diners to properly physically distance.

At the last council meeting, City Planner Nora Shepard introduced the idea to the council. Shepard and city staff have been designing an administrative process for businesses to apply to create an outdoor dining area and researching how other communities are implementing similar policies.

“What we propose is for [Moab City Manager Joel Linares] to issue an emergency order: ‘Due to COVID and economic hardship, we will be staying some of the land-use traditions on outdoor dining and we will also be allowing them in the city rights-of-way.’” Shepard explained.

Then, she said, businesses would apply for a permit and their application would have to go through the Planning and Building Departments.

Shepard had three questions for the council to help clarify how they want the outdoor dining policy to function. She asked them about appropriate time restrictions for such temporary dining areas and for how long the option should be available in the city.

She also asked the council where they wanted to allow these temporary outdoor dining areas and how the public should be notified of the policy.

Councilmembers supported looser restrictions, favoring permission for all-week operation and opening the opportunity to restaurants throughout the city, rather than limiting it to downtown.

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus proposed an end date of Nov. 30 for the use of temporary outdoor seating, and the council was amenable.

Some council members did express concerns, however, that businesses adjacent to restaurants that take advantage of the outdoor dining policy might be inconvenienced and lose some parking to diners.

Councilmember Rani Derasary mentioned concerns with lighting, noise ordinances, and looping in emergency response agencies so they’re aware of the possible change in the cityscape. Shepard said these issues will be addressed.

“It’s short-term, it’s temporary, it’s an experiment,” Shepard reminded the council. “It’s due to COVID-19 right now because of economic hardship. If we decide in the future that this is a really cool thing in the summertime, and everybody loves it, then we can always go through and make a change to our zoning and our land-use code that would then formalize it.”

The policy won’t go into effect any earlier than mid-August.

Linares noted there are still a lot of details to address.

“Even after we work through these issues with you guys, there’s a whole slew of other issues we still have to work through,” he told the council, mentioning possible consultations with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Health Department, and the Building Department.

Bike park controversy changes city policy

City Attorney Laurie Simonson also turned to the City Council for direction to help guide the design of a new policy.

Simonson and city staff are working on a formal procedure to ensure public input on proposed uses of city property, a move prompted by the controversial bike skills park along the Millcreek Parkway.

The council informally agreed that the process should apply to all city property and that there should be a defined time threshold—Derasary suggested a month—that would trigger the process.

Councilmembers favored a town hall-style opportunity for public engagement on use of city property, rather than the more formal public hearing format, in which technically councilmembers aren’t allowed to respond to citizen comments.

Councilmember Mike Duncan expressed doubts that transparency issues could be solved by crafting a policy that would cover all future scenarios.

Instead, he suggested that a “sense of political adeptness” should cue the council to when an issue could potentially be controversial.

“What I might encourage is rather than try to write out a set of detailed rules... to somehow add to our code the notion that political wisdom requires transparency and public hearings in front of both sides of an issue, not just one side of an issue,” Duncan said.

Linares warned the council that there will inevitably be dissatisfied groups, even with a public input procedure.

“There’s no process that we can create for you that is going to make the uncomfortable, hard decision and mad people go away,” he said. “If we would have had this process in place with the bike skills park... there would still be a group of people who aren’t happy with that decision, whether it was to do it or not do it.”

He said the council must accept the limitations of the public input process.

“If the goal is to make sure people are informed, they had a say, they knew what was happening, and now everyone has to live with the decision that’s made— we can do that,” Linares said. “If the goal is to formulate a perfect process that everyone is happy, I can never deliver you that process.”

Grants and opportunities

Niehaus reported that the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development has distributed nearly $100,000 to every rural county in Utah. The Grand County Economic Development Advisory Committee is discussing how that money will be spent.

She also said she hopes there will soon be an opportunity for someone in Grand County looking for a career shift to technology.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how we can get more opportunities for people to learn coding,” she told the council.

Through a collaboration between a coding school and Utah Valley University, scholarships for coding programs are being distributed throughout the state, with a focus on individuals whose careers have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton attended a Utah League of Cities and Towns town hall, where it was reported that Utah is at 5% unemployment, one of the lowest rates in the country. Sales taxes have all taken a hit, with transient room taxes seeing the deepest blow, coming in at a 62% loss.

She also mentioned a new grant available through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development called “Shop in Utah,” which offers funding to businesses impacted by the coronavirus who offer discounts to their customers.

“This state is really doing everything they can to create a safe environment for small businesses to help us get back on our feet again,” said Guzman-Newton.

Also of note

Linares reported that the section of the Millcreek Parkway near the Grand County Middle School, which is under construction, will be realigned. The process could take a couple of months and is likely to start within the next couple of weeks. Crews may have to close that section of the Parkway temporarily.

The Groff Memorial Bike Skills Park is scheduled for groundbreaking on Aug. 10. Before grading begins, six trees will be removed, four in the area of the park and two in the area of the restroom. The restroom, a concrete structure similar to the one at Anonymous Park, has been ordered and will arrive pre-constructed sometime in Sept.

City Engineer Chuck Williams asked the council to approve a contract to install a wheelchair lift system in the Center Street gym to provide access to the upper floor and basement from the ground floor. The city was awarded a Community Development Block Grant from the state for $75,000, and the city has agreed to a local cost-share of $50,000. The low bid for the project comes from Sage Construction and is estimated at approximately $103,000. The council approved the contract unanimously.

Moab City Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. For agendas and current meeting policies, go to www.moabcity.org/151/City-Council