Affordable housing in Moab

Many potential barriers to affordable housing in the Moab area are “regulatory” in nature, according to a presentation by a noted rural development specialist during last Thursday’s meeting of the Moab City Planning Commission.

Richard Walker of the Salt Lake City-based Rural Community Assistance Corporation, said a variety of issues, such as inflexible sidewalk, gutter, and infrastructure requirements, excessive street widths, lot size and zoning requirements, and other restrictions, could potentially impede affordable housing.
Even unnecessary delays obtaining permits can make a project less affordable, added Walker, as he presented his findings and recommendations to the planning commission and the public.
During the two-hour meeting, Walker encouraged the expediting of the approval process, and also recommended that certain impact fees be waived or at least reduced for affordable housing projects.

In addition to city planning commissioners Jeanette Kopell, Kelly Thornton, and Wayne Hoskisson, there were about a dozen other people in attendance, including city planning director Jeff Reinhart, planning assistant Sommar Johnson, Moab City Manager Donna Metzler, community development director David Olsen, and Grand County Council member Audrey Graham, along with several interested citizens.
Walker also answered questions from the members of the public who were in attendance. A couple of the attendees said they wondered about whether developers would actually bother with affordable housing, and where such projects might be located. At least one person questioned whether affordable housing would negatively impact property values.
“It’s a common misconception that affordable housing projects make (surrounding) property values go down, but that is not the case,” said Walker, who showed pictures of several successful projects done elsewhere around the state. “The commission and the public should be willing to accept new and innovative designs as affordable housing solutions.”

Walker noted that alleviating the negative stigma that many people associate with affordable housing is part of the challenge.
“Our goal is to educate the public and officials about the complexities of affordable housing,” Walker said.
Moab has as many as 14 zones, Walker noted, adding that many of the city’s zones could be simplified or consolidated. The existing R-3 zone should also be modified to allow up to 30 units per acre, Walker suggested.
In addition, he recommended that a “lesser standard” of code compliance be applied to affordable housing projects, especially those that involve remodeling. Bringing an entire building to current codes often results in prohibitively high costs, making an otherwise affordable project unaffordable, he said.
Planning commission chairwoman Kelly Thornton cautioned against arbitrarily “cutting corners,” particularly when residents’ safety may be at stake.
“But these are definitely things we can look at,” she said. “This is the beginning of a process. There will be lots of meetings and opportunities for public input.”
Graham suggested that planners and interested parties lay out a map of the city and use M&M candies to mark areas where more families could potentially live.
“We could see what could be done to make it happen,” she said.
-Moab Times-Independent

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