At their regular meeting on Jan. 14, Moab City Council decided how they would distribute $55,000 in community funds among local organizations, discussed the overnight development standards they’ve been working on for the past year, and considered zoning changes on parcels owned by the city and by local nonprofit Community Rebuilds.
Each year, the city distributes a pool of money among organizations that provide services and benefits to the community. $14,500 was set aside to be used for event sponsorships, leaving $40,500 to allocate for the upcoming year. Thirteen groups applied for a total of $124,107, leaving the city staff and council a difficult decision of which groups to fund and how much to give each applicant. Representatives from some groups attended the meeting to plead their case.
Sarah Melnicoff, director of nonprofit Moab Solutions which helps people with a variety of emergency needs, spoke before the council. She reported that the group had raised around $23,000 in a fundraising drive outside of City Market and in private donations. If they received the recommended council contribution, she said, they would have a budget of almost $25,000. However, their expenses this past month were unexpectedly large.
“Last month, I spent $4,056,” Melnicoff said. “A lot of that is rent or lodging, keeping people in their housing, or putting people up.”
“We’re happy to do it, we want to help people, there’s a lot of need,” she said. “This is probably the busiest December we’ve ever had.”
Contention arose over the city staff’s recommendation that the Humane Society of Moab be granted $3,500 to continue their programs, which include a trap and neuter program for feral cats in the area. Some residents attended a previous City Council meeting to voice their concerns about the damage inflicted on wild bird populations by feral cats, opposing granting the money.
Dennis Silva has voiced his opinion on the feral cat program at previous meetings. At the Jan. 14 meeting he came before the council, saying, “We have a problem with cats, and we need to deal with it in some way. It feels like a nonprofit has taken the ball and run with it without a lot of guidance.”
Ellen Amuso, who is on the board of the Humane Society of Moab, read a statement from the group to the council in support of trap and neuter programs
Amuso reminded the council that between 1997 and 2004, city taxpayers provided the funds for almost 2000 cats to be trapped, transported, euthanized, and disposed of. Since the implementation of the trap, neuter, release program, Amusa said, the group believes the feral cat population has steadily decreased.
Council members agreed to approve the suggested $3500 for the Humane Society, with the caveat that future funding requests from the group would have to be accompanied by reports that prove the feral cat population is decreasing.
Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton moved to reallocate funds that had been suggested for community radio station KZMU and nonprofit thrift store Wabisabi to the Youth Garden Project for their summer camp, which had previously not been awarded any funds. The motion passed unanimously.
The groups receiving Moab City funds for 2020 are Grand Area Mentoring, the Humane Society of Moab, KZMU Public Radio, the Moab Free Health Clinic, Moab Solutions, the Multicultural Center, Seekhaven Crisis and Resource Center, Rim to Rim Restoration, WabiSabi, and the Youth Garden Project. Full Circle Intertribal Center received an in-kind donation of meeting and rental space at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center at a value of $1500.
The city and the county have each been working to create a set of development standards for new overnight accommodations, and have made an effort to coordinate their ordinances to make requirements similar across the board. The county passed their standards at their Jan. 7 meeting. The city is not quite ready to finalize their draft.
The main difference between the two ordinances as they stand is in implementation.
“We wanted to change the zone itself because then it’s in black and white and everybody in the zone is subject to the same regulations,” explained City Planner Nora Shepard.“The county has chosen to do overlay zones, which means there’s an extra legislative step. Somebody has to have the overlay actually applied to the property.”
Shepard presented to the council information they had requested at previous meetings, such as an analysis of parcels on the north side of town that would be eligible for new overnight rental development. Shepard reported that the number of existing overnight rental units stands at 2,136 rooms, while the number of approved but pending units is 604 rooms. She also asked the council to provide the planning commission with direction on issues like energy efficiency requirements, mixed commercial use requirements, and building size.
The discussion revealed that many council members still feel uncertain about how well the standards will achieve the desired result of slowing development, and what details should be included.
A citizen petition has been circulating, asking the council to stop all new construction of overnight lodging until the impacts of projects that have been approved, but not yet built, can be seen. In response to this and other public input, council members discussed whether there are other ways of “metering” growth they could use to slow development in Moab.
Councilmember Mike Duncan expressed discomfort with using aggressive standards as the only means of slowing development; other council members supported the approach. Councilmember Kalen Jones expressed concern that the ordinance may end up allowing a loophole for hotel builders to evade their Assured Workforce Housing requirements; City Manager Joel Linares assured him the only way hotels could reduce those requirements is by reducing the number of rooms they plan to build. Council members and staff debated the determination of the desired ratio between overnight units and residential units, similar to the one in the county’s recently passed code.
The issue was not slated to be voted on but only listed on the agenda for discussion. The council asked Shepard to take the draft back to the planning commission for further consideration.
Two rezoning requests came before the council. One was on the city’s own Walnut Lane, which was acquired by the city over a year ago with the intention of developing affordable housing. The lot is zoned R2, or single-family housing. To accommodate high-density housing, city staff requested a rezone to R4, or manufactured housing. The council approved the zone change unanimously.
The other zone request on the agenda raised more discussion.
The affordable housing nonprofit Community Rebuilds owns two parcels on 200 South. One lot faces the street and is zoned R3 residential and is used as housing for Community Rebuilds VISTAs and other staff. The other lot is reached by an alley and is tucked behind other residences and is zoned C2 commercial. That property houses the intern bunkhouse and the organizations’ offices. Community Rebuilds requested that the two zones be swapped so that they can move their offices to the street-facing property, where it is easier to find. The lot would also be contiguous with other C2-zoned properties. Executive Director Rikki Epperson spoke before the council.
“I feel very confident that it won’t impact the neighborhood,” she said of the swap. She noted that applicants to the Community Rebuilds program often have difficulty finding the office, and have disturbed neighbors by mistakenly knocking on the wrong door. She assured the council that the group plans to deed restrict the properties so they can’t be used for overnight accommodations.
Other citizens voiced their support for the swap. Kenny Fallon is an Americorps VISTA with Community Rebuilds, and he said friends of his have had difficulty finding affordable housing.
“I’m grateful that I was able to get into housing that’s reserved for service organization workers,” he said of the housing provided by Community Rebuilds.
Zacharia Levine is the Director of the Grand County Department for Community and Economic Development, but he spoke as a private citizen on the matter.
“I share a property boundary with one part of the subject acreage. I have no objection to the suggested zone change. actually think it’s beneficial,” Levine said. “As a community member, I certainly support the endeavors of this landowner.”
Other commenters, however, opposed the change. Kimberly Pettit is a neighbor of the Community Rebuilds property. She felt she had not been properly notified about public hearings on the proposal and she asked that the council table the matter.
In the discussion, the council speculated on whether the promised deed restriction would continue if Community Rebuilds were to sell the property, and also recalled some conflicts over rezoning involving overnight rental businesses in the area.
Rani Derasary moved to table the proposal, and the motion passed four to one. Councilmember Kalen Jones in opposition.