How does one advertise in a slow economy with a nonexistent budget? The Grand County Council and the Moab Area Travel Council discussed that issue at the regular council meeting on June 16. The council also discussed an application for a development in Spanish Valley, a planned campground in the Dalton Wells area and accepted the resignation of a department head.
Travel Council focuses on tourists within driving distance
Moab Area Travel Council Director Elaine Gizler updated the council on her department’s strategies for marketing and advertising. The Travel Council uses transient room taxes to fund its budget, and that income all but dried up during the health department shut-downs this spring.
“Since March 17, obviously, our county has been devastated,” Gizler said. “How do we restart tourism in a way that shows that we care?”
Because tourism is so hard to predict this year, Gizler said the Travel Council plans to operate on a month-by-month budget as they see how much TRT money comes in. They will be targeting their marketing campaigns at populations within driving distance, like Utah’s Wasatch Front, Denver and Phoenix.
“Analysts continue to see that the majority of people do not expect to take a flight this summer,” Gizler explained.
She said that although tourism has slowed down, her office has been extremely busy. Several of its staff have been laid off. Meanwhile, Gizler said the remaining staff is answering phone calls that would usually go to the Moab Information Center, monitoring permits for special events and working on managing the budget and strategizing for the future.
Gizler said she would like to bring back one laid-off staff member to help with the workload.
Later in the meeting, County Attorney Christina Sloan and County Administrator Chris Baird acknowledged that all county departments have felt the effects of workforce reductions.
“Everybody's kind of impacted and slowed down a bit,” said Baird.
The council held a second vote on whether to approve a Planned Unit Development application for a development in Spanish Valley called Strawburb.
The application proposes subdividing five-acre lots in the All American Acres development into one-acre lots and contracting with Community Rebuilds to put single-family homes on the lots. The homes would be clustered to maintain the wide-open spaces that characterize the area and overall housing density would not be impacted.
The application had been discussed at the June 2 meeting, but two councilmembers were absent, and the council decided to discuss it again this week.
Councilmember Jaylyn Hawks read a letter opposing the subdivision from Russell Tangren, who lives in the All American Acres development.
“I love and prize my solitude, my privacy, and overall peace and quiet. Those are the reasons I’ve chosen to live here,” Tangren wrote.
Lena Jaffe is the program coordinator for Community Rebuilds and spoke in favor of the Strawburb subdivision.
“This subdivision represents an opportunity to welcome those who contribute to the community,” she said. “As council members, you are leaders in establishing who the Moab community is for, who is welcome here, who can build a life here.”
She noted that applicants waiting for Community Rebuilds homes include essential workers like EMTs and teachers.
Councilmembers expressed strong opinions both in favor and against the development.
Hawks said she doesn’t think the project is compatible with the character of the community and more suitable places for that type of project exist. She also pointed out that around 700 affordable housing units have been approved and are at various stages in the development and construction process, calling into question the urgency of the need for more affordable housing.
Councilmember Curtis Wells pointed out that the council created the Planned Unit Development ordinance with the intention of incentivizing affordable housing development, and it would be poor form to not follow through on approving an application that falls within the policy’s parameters.
“We are asking developers to invest a lot of money upfront, and if we're only providing a very incoherent or erratic inconsistent platform to approve these projects, they will not come forward,” Wells warned.
The council narrowly voted to approve the application, with Hawks, Paxman and Halliday voting in opposition.
Developing campsites in Dalton Wells
The Dalton Wells area just north of Moab has been a popular site for dispersed camping in recent years, and also the site of a proposed state park celebrating the unique paleontology found there. The state park has not been designated and in the current economic slow-down, the project is unlikely to be prioritized any time soon.
The Utah Division of Natural Resources, however, has been working with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands and has secured funding to build a formal fee campground along the Dalton Wells road, thus addressing current problems with dust, litter, and human waste.
DNR representative Tony Mancuso presented the plan and proposed that the county could manage the campground through an agreement similar to the one the county has with the Bureau of Land Management at the Sand Flats Recreation Area.
“Our goals at the division are to establish guidelines for recreational use in the area, try and organize the traffic, and provide a quality visitor experience,” Mancuso said.
The campground would have 26 dry sites, with a fire ring, shade structure, picnic table and enough room for two class-A RVs at each site. There would be three vault toilets, an iron ranger fee station, and information kiosks at both ends of the campground.
The Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands plans to go ahead with the campground even if the county does not agree to manage it. However, the department cannot levy fees, so they would need to find another public or private entity to operate the campground.
If Grand County decides to run the campground, they would be able to set their own fee schedule and retain the money to sustain campground maintenance and operations.
Mancuso said staff has spoken with campers in the area and a survey showed that 83% of respondents “would be accepting of fees if they were used for recreation and infrastructure amenities were provided.”
Councilmembers were supportive of the campground and while they did not discuss specifically whether the county would agree to manage the site, several members seemed open to the idea.
Zacharia Levine resigns
The council accepted the resignation of Zacharia Levine, head of the Grand County Department of Community and Economic Development.
Levine has headed the department for almost six years and is a familiar face at county council meetings and planning commission meetings as well as other community meetings. Levine told the council his last day on the job would be August 7.
“Effective August 10 of this year I will become the director of Corporate Development and Social Responsibility for the Synergy Company,” he announced. The Synergy Company is based in Moab and produces vitamins, extracts and formulas for health.
Levine said his job at the county “has provided immense personal and professional nourishment.”
“Although I will miss my job with Grand County, I am very excited to contribute to the Moab community and regional economy in new ways,” he said, adding that in his final weeks he will work on smoothing the transition in the Community and Economic Development office.
Councilmembers thanked Levine for his work at the county and congratulated him on his new position.
“You will be missed. Our loss is Synergy’s gain,” said Council Chair Mary McGann, but teasingly added that the council would still ask Levine to sit on boards and committees. Levine said he looks forward to staying involved in local government issues.
The Grand County Council meets at 4 p.m. every first and third Tuesday of the month. Meetings are currently held online and can be viewed on the Grand County Government Youtube page. To learn more about how to get on the agenda, go to www.grandcountyutah.net/134/County-Council