Grand County Commission meeting report 2021-02-16

Packet is here:

Video is here:

The more interesting agenda items are…

E. Approving Easter Jeep Safari 2021 Special Event Permit. The GCC approved a modification to the special event covid rules which would permit larger numbers of participants, so long as there were never more that 250 people in the same location at the same time. (The previous rules had the same 250 person cap, but did not take into account separation in time and space.) Grand County had offered this flexibility to the Jeep Safari organizers weeks ago. The organizers initially cancelled the Jeep Safari, then reconsidered and accepted the offer. The Jeep Safari trade show will not happen this year, but the trail rides will. Votes on this item (covid rule modification, then approval of JS permit) were unanimous in favor.

J. Ratifying Chair’s signature on letter of support to the Department of Transportation for SkyWest Airlines request to modify the Essential Air Service Agreement. Sky West wants to offer flights from Moab to both Salt Lake City and Denver. (Currently Denver is the only option.) The total number of flights would not change. Approved unanimously by the GCC, but it’s up to DOT to allow (or not) this change.

M. Approving High Density Housing Overlay Rules & Regulations, and presentation on the HDHO Program History. This issue has generated a lot of controversy over the past few weeks. The High Density Housing Overlay (HDHO) ordinance was passed in early 2019. Everyone agrees that the HDHO program was intended to provide both rental and ownership opportunities for locally employed households. There are no explicit price controls on HDHO units. Instead, the hope is that by constraining the market to include only locally employed households (and exclude, for example, people looking to buy a second home), the prices will be affordable to the targeted Grand County workforce.

It has recently become clear that some HDHO developers interpret these ownership rules in a significantly more permissive way than do most Grand County elected officials and staff. These developers want to be able to sell HDHO houses and condos to out-of-town investors, who would then in turn rent to the targeted local workforce population.

Most Grand County officials and staff maintain that the proposed more permissive interpretation (1) is not compatible with the way the HDHO ordinance is written, (2) is inconsistent with the legislative intent, (3) would make enforcement of HDHO occupancy restrictions significantly more difficult, and (4) would lead to higher HDHO home prices, since the local workforce would have to compete against out-of-town investors.

Proponents of the more permissive interpretation maintain that their projects would fail without the added flexibility of selling to investors (who would then rent to the local workforce), and that their reading of the HDHO ordinance supports the proposed looser rules.

I personally side strongly with stricter interpretation. I was on the County Planning Commission while the HDHO program was being crafted, and the idea that the market for HDHO houses would be open to both the local workforce and also out-of-town investors was never discussed. Instead, there was much discussion of how a market limited to only locally employed buyers would tend to hold HDHO house prices in check and make the houses more affordable to the targeted local workers.

(It should be pointed out that all sides agree that HDHO developers are free to retain ownership of the units they build and rent to local workforce households.)

The GCC voted (unanimously) to postpone a decision until the next meeting, since some members wanted more time to think through the issues.