Grand County right now is working on rules and regulations that they will hand over to the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, who is administering the deed restrictions to which 80% of houses built under the High-Density Housing Overlay are subject. This is not about changing the rules; this is about clarifying the rules.

In clarifying the rules, Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan says that the Grand County Land Use Code, specifically subsection 4.7.11.A, means that only local residents (which is defined more rigorously in 4.7.3.M) can purchase homes. This does not necessarily mean that a landlord is disqualified from renting an HDHO unit to a local, but the question is who the landlord is.

Is the landlord a local resident? Clearly, the code allows local individuals to rent out HDHO units to other individuals. Is it a local corporation? That is where it starts to get tricky.

The code specifies that it is a misdemeanor to sell to “a household” that doesn’t qualify, but from what I can tell, it doesn’t specifically address the case of selling to “a non-household,” i.e. a corporation. But that’s a silly way of reading the code.

Sloan said that big, local property owners are not precluded from snatching up units that they turn around and rent out to locals, but I don’t see how that is substantively different from a big, nonlocal property owner doing the same. Sure a local owner might put rent money back into the local economy, but that seems like a marginal effect compared to making the rental market more competitive by opening up who can own those properties and collect the rent.

I keep changing my mind about a lot of this, but in trying to ensure I wrap my head around it, I sent the following text message to Sloan to flesh it out. Links are missing at the moment for some of the key elements here, but I plan to gather all the necessary citations and add them here.

The county seems to be defending a legally sound position because of 4.7.11.A. But, I don’t think it was the legislative intent to force all units to be owned by individuals who live in Moab; it seemed to be the intent to have the occupants be local, and if some of the owners were also local, that’d also be nice and, probably, inevitable.

I don’t know the history of the enforcement subsection (I’ve asked for some records I hope can tell that story), but at this moment, its logical and legal conclusion — that only local individuals can own deed restricted HDHO units because they are the only legal purchasing party — doesn’t match what Zacharia and Kaitlin and JD said clearly (albeit glancingly) in 2018 that they were trying to do.

I know you point to all these instances of them saying “We need ownership to be affordable,” and they did say that, but they also said they wanted rent to be affordable. They said they also wanted apartments.

Their intent — and the one that the council ultimately endorsed — is spelled out very clearly in 4.7.1.A and in 4.7.3.M and in Zacharia’s powerpoint on this during the commission workshop and in JD’s answer to Evan’s question and in many other places. Owner OR renter is all over the document; the enforcement subsection is the lone, controlling exception.

It’s very clear to me that “owner or renter” was the legislative intent based on the documentation and my conversations, but in trying to minimize the county’s liability, everyone has seemingly bought into not just what the code literally says — which is what you claim it does — but that this is good policy and the intended consequence of the code.

I think this was clearly not the intent, and I can’t say confidently one way or the other if it’s good policy. Mila claims rents stay high in rent squeezes, but she also says that rentals are easy to find in Moab. On the other hand, I see why you’d want to create an exclusive ownership market for locals.

Further, I’m not buying that rentals under HDHO were meant to be exclusively owned by Bynum or Wong types. The people who drafted the HDHO know as well as anyone that those people are shitty landlords. They might be putting rent revenues back into the local economy — surely they would more than other landlords might — but that seems like a marginal effect. Making the rental market more competitive feels less marginal.

The last thing is that some set of people fucked up on the way to this point. HDHO developers are getting screwed by a misinterpretation of code, but they were misled into their misinterpretation by statements of intent spelled out in the code that conflict with the code’s consequences. By some miracle, this seemingly never came up in conferences or public hearings or reviews with the county until now, and that to me is astounding if true.

But it’s of course arguable that developers should have known better. Perhaps they should have.