Two stories done before tonight’s meeting started. I need to start doing meeting previews.
A former county staffer is challenging the official HDHO narrative.
As the Grand County Commission considers rules governing its High-Density Housing Overlay program, developers and other critics say that the proposed regulations go against the county’s original intent of the program.
Those critics have now found an ally in a former staffer who helped design the program. That former staffer also says that the county advised developers that their plans to sell some units to outside investors abided by the Grand County Land Use Code.
Kaitlin Myers, who in 2019 moved from the Grand County Community and Economic Development Department to the City of Moab to oversee the city’s public housing project at Walnut Lane, responded with opposition to county efforts that became public last week to restrict ownership on units built under the High-Density Housing Overlay project.
Myers and other city officials said that her statements did not necessarily reflect those of the city, which has not voted on any official stance toward the county’s HDHO regulations.
Myers worked at the county for two years with Zacharia Levine, the head of the department and chief architect on the HDHO ordinance, to design the program. JD McClanahan also worked in the department at the time, completing the trio of county staff who wrote the ordinance that the county passed in early 2019.
Levine, who left the department to join the Synergy Company in 2020, has not commented publicly on the matter. McClanahan, who has also since left the county, did not comment either.
Myers said in a letter to the county commission Tuesday, Feb. 16 that she opposed the proposed rules and regulations from the county governing the HDHO and that it was getting the legislative intent of the ordinance wrong and threatening the prospect for locals to find more affordable rental housing opportunities.
“Because I was so involved with the ordinance from birth to formal approval, I can confidently say these rules and regulations go against the intention and plain language of the HDHO, will have a variety of severely detrimental impacts on the community, and are not ready to be passed and adopted by the commission as written,” Myers wrote.
Myers also said that county staff advised interested developers that the land use code allowed them to sell units to outside investors, as long as those investors ultimately rented the units out to local workers rather than leaving units empty or operating them as overnight rentals.
She said so in answering a question that Grand County Planning Commissioner Rick York asked at a meeting the week prior regarding the proposed rules and regulation about how developers and the county had come to separate conclusions about selling HDHO units to outside investors.
“I would like to answer York’s question by clarifying for the record that county staff’s intent when developing the HDHO was to restrict the occupancy or use of the units to [local households],” she wrote, “not to restrict HDHO units and lots to exclusively be owned by [local households].”
Myers went on to say that staff told interested developers “that we were interested in who lived in the units, not necessarily who owned them.” Jennifer Johnston, who alongside her husband Terill Johnston applied to build under the HDHO in 2019, confirmed Myers’s claim.
Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan, who has had county staff and many county commissioners behind her on the issue from the beginning of this recent battle over the rules, said that the county was not legally liable for interpretation of code by county staff.
Rather, Sloan said the county is only liable for the language of the code, which she told county commissioners Tuesday evening preempted non-local entities from purchasing HDHO units.
HDHO developers, including Johnston and others, have contacted the county through their attorneys to notify them of their disagreement with the county’s efforts. The letters indicate a strong possibility that developers will sue the county if it moves forward with its proposed rules and regulations.
Attorneys on both sides of the issue have expressed confidence in their prospects of winning such a lawsuit.
SkyWest, Grand ask feds to change some DEN flights to SLC
The Grand County Commission tonight will likely vote to support a request to remove some flights between Denver and Moab and add in their place flights to and from Salt Lake City.
Such flights between the state capital and the state’s icon existed prior to the summer of 2018, when SkyWest Airlines took over the Essential Air Service contract that enables flights to and from Canyonlands Regional Airport and similar, small community airports. The U.S. Department of Transportation holds the other side of the contract and pays airlines annual subsidies for serving small communities.
Boutique Air had the contract prior to 2018, and it connected Moab to both Salt Lake City and Denver. However, the Grand County Council decided that year to endorse a competing contract offered by SkyWest, since the company offered larger flights that the council believed would better serve the community long-term.
That endorsement essentially guaranteed that SkyWest would take over the contract, but at a loss of flights to Salt Lake City that Boutique had offered. SkyWest did not make such an offering in part due to the profitability of connecting to Denver over Salt Lake City.
Now, as interest in visiting Moab has continued growing, with pandemic-related shakeups to private partnerships in the airline industry, and following infrastructure improvements at the SLC airport, SkyWest has an opening to reinstate flights between Moab and Salt Lake City.
Both the airline and Grand County are now hoping to make the change to happen, but a timeline for a change to the approved contract is unclear. A spokesperson for SkyWest said that it hoped to begin the proposed flights as early as April 1. [TK]
If approved, SkyWest would partner with Delta Air Lines to provide the CNY-SLC flights as part of a code-sharing agreement, which allows one airline to market another airline’s flight as its own, in addition to other benefits for the companies and customers.
While the number of passengers that SkyWest serves on flights between Denver and Moab fluctuates based on demand, the annual subsidy is guaranteed, as long as SkyWest serves enough passengers each year — roughly 3,000 between the two cities. SkyWest estimates it will actually serve roughly 32,500 passengers per year during its contract period, which ends in 2023.
Annually, the DOT pays SkyWest nearly $3 million to fly between Moab and Denver, equating to about $92 per passenger, according to federal filings. The total subsidy would remain unchanged if the federal Department of Transportation accepts the proposed contract as written.
The Times-Independent did not obtain an estimate of changes to total passengers prior to publication. In a letter it endorsed on the matter, The Grand County Commission said that adding flights to Salt Lake City “will allow seasonal flexibility in flight schedules based on passenger demand while expanding a desired route structure benefitting all travelers to this region.”