The Grand County Council revisited a contentious Spanish Valley development application at their regular meeting on July 21. The issue was postponed, for a second time, to a later meeting.
Council members also approved the establishment of a committee that will investigate the potential for a solar farm near the airport.
Grand County’s High Density Housing Overlay, approved in 2019, was designed to encourage developers to create more affordable housing by allowing for increased density in certain areas in exchange for a percentage of units deed-restricted to Grand County residents. The ordinance has been a success, facilitating housing projects throughout the valley. Peak View subdivision is one such project in the early stages of development; councilmembers agree the project is well-designed and will be a boon to the community, but approval of the first construction stage has been hung up for months on technical legal issues.
Developers Jennifer and Terrill Johnston have been working with county staff to negotiate approval for the first phase of the 127-unit housing subdivision they plan to build in Spanish Valley.
At its last meeting, the council reviewed a final plat for the first phase of the project, which came with a favorable recommendation from the Grand County Planning and Zoning Commission. However, there were several conditions that came with that recommendation.
One of the issues with the Peak View subdivision was that the first phase of the development must fully comply with the HDHO conditions, rather than deferring some requirements to a proposed second or third phase. Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine pointed out that the county has no way to assure that later phases of the project will ever be built, and therefore must treat the first phase like a standalone project.
Under the requirements of the HDHO, 13 of the 16 homes proposed for the first phase of the subdivision must be deed-restricted to Grand County residents. This deed restriction is a core requirement of the HDHO, addressing the main goal of creating more affordable housing for long-term Grand County residents. The developers had only set aside seven homes for residents in the initial plans.
The second issue involved improvements the developers are required to make to Spanish Valley Drive adjacent to the property, including widening it to accommodate a future multiuse pathway. The Planning Commission asked that the cost estimate for the first phase include a bond for that work, rather than financing it in a later phase.
Both those issues were resolved in discussions on July 7 between county staff, Jennifer Johnston, and the attorney and engineer working on the Peak View project. The developers agreed to adhere to the 80/20 split required by the HDHO and to amend the “opinion of probable cost” estimate to include a bond to pay for improvements to the segment of road that fronts the first phase of the project.
However, a final sticking point remained regarding drainage requirements associated with the project. The plat agreement includes an easement to the county for drainage infrastructure, which the developer will construct and then hand over to the county.
The Johnstons had requested that the easement agreement include an indemnity clause that would protect them and their neighbor, whose property would be affected by the drainage, from liability associated with the drainage infrastructure.
David Hirschi, who represents the Johnstons, said that because the drainage infrastructure in question solves a county problem and advances the county’s master drainage plan, the county should take responsibility for any possible future liability.
County Attorney Christina Sloan emphatically maintained that the county does not grant such indemnities, and should not start now.
“It is not in the county’s best interest to provide indemnification on an easement that benefits private development,” she warned during the July 7 discussion of the issue. She noted that the county by default carried most of the liability for such infrastructure, being the party with “deeper pockets” and thus the likely target of any potential lawsuits. Sloan reiterated her stance at the July 21 meeting, adding that both the county roads supervisor and the county engineer agreed with her.
While several councilmembers expressed their support for the project, most agreed that exposing the county to increased legal liability by granting indemnity to a private party was unwise.
Councilmember Greg Halliday said he didn’t think the current drainage plan for the project, which deposits stormwater onto the neighboring property to “sheet” over the ground and absorb into the soil, was going to work.
“I’ve had considerable experience with drainage issues, having been the road manager for Castle Valley for six years,” he said. “I can tell you right now that the only way you’re going to avoid problems is to send that water directly to Pack Creek. If you send it anywhere else, you’re going to end up with a lot of problems, a lot of headaches, a lot of maintenance.”
Jennifer Johnston said her team had come up with an alternative solution to the last sticking point of the plat.
Wesley Felice, representing the developers, explained that their alternative was for the drainage to be private infrastructure, and the Johnstons would indemnify their neighbor themselves.
That plan, Felice said, “would effectively get rid of the indemnification issues by making the drainage a private drainage instead of a public drainage.”
The council agreed that they would need to have the county attorney examine that proposal before they could discuss it. The issue will be re-evaluated at a later meeting.
Harnessing the Sun
Canyonlands Field Airport Director Andy Solsvig requested that the airport committee be allowed to create a separate committee to investigate the possibility of a solar farm either on or near the airport property. The request was unanimously approved by council.
Current airport committee members Howard Trenholme, Bill Hawley, and Jody Patterson have indicated interest in being on the subcommittee, as well as Elaine Gizler, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council. Councilmember Evan Clapper offered to serve on the committee if there was a need for county representation.
The Grand County Council meets every first and third Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m. Meeting agendas, schedules and instructions on how to participate can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net/134/County-Council