With the looming threat that an errant word or phrasing might create a liability for the county amid discussions over proposed rules and regulations that stand to expose the county to legal action if approved, the Grand County Commission tabled a vote Tuesday, Feb. 17 to give commissioners more time to discuss the matter with developers and the county attorney.
Ten people, including developers, a former county staffer, a local business owner, attorneys and others, spoke earlier in the meeting during the public comment period to air their concerns with and opposition to the proposal. One local real estate developer, David Morey, spoke in its favor.
Later, Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan gave a 40-minute presentation on the language of the rules and regulations and an historical overview of the matter. She reviewed meetings and workshops of the Grand County Commission regarding the High-Density Housing Overlay, the ordinance in question.
Sloan said during the presentation that the county did not merely face exposure if it moved forward with what she characterized as a clarification of the county’s land use code. Developers, former staff and the chair of the commission characterized as a change. Sloan said that the county also stood to face legal action if it allowed developers to move forward with their plans.
Developers’ plans, which have been in the works for the two years since the High-Density Housing Ordinance, also referred to by its acronym HDHO, passed in January 2019, are to build roughly 280 units of housing in the unincorporated county, mostly within Spanish Valley, and sell the units on the open market.
But Sloan, Grand County Planning Director Mila Dunbar-Irwin, and the Grand County Planning Commission have backed a plan to preempt those efforts.
More particularly, they do not want outside investors buying up the properties; county staff and the planning commission have pointed to the enforcement section of the HDHO to make the point that developers must sell the units to locals, not outside investors.
But after conversations with former staff — see related story in this edition — planning commissioners, and county commissioners, Sloan maintained that her review of the public meetings that led to the passage of the High-Density Housing Ordinance, she said she had spent the past two weekends reviewing recordings and minutes in preparation for Tuesday’s meeting, laid bare that her and other county officials’ view was correct.
Sloan cited meetings in which county staff and council members discussed extensively market data on home prices and housing costs compared to local wages, in which staff and council members characterized some potential owners as “mom and dad” or “Mr. Rogers” types. She also reiterated the plainness of the adopted ordinance, which explicitly disallows the selling or renting of units to “households that do not qualify” under the HDHO section of the code.
Excluded from the selected history was an interaction on June 8, 2018 — one of the rare and perhaps only occasions in which the subject of an outside owner renting to locals was explicitly mentioned.
The question came amid a discussion between county staff and the county council about the core mechanics of the HDHO: Using deed restrictions rather than price caps or appreciation caps to achieve affordability.
Council Member Evan Clapper asked Affordable Housing and Economic Development Coordinator JD McClanahan, “If the homeowner doesn’t live here, but they’re renting it out, does that qualify?” In response, McClanahan said, “Yes, as long as it’s not short-term rentals. As long as the people they’re renting it out to are there for at least six months.”
A brief pause followed, and then-Council Member Curtis Wells changed the topic with a comment about his concern that owners of long-term rentals could try to skirt the land use code and operate an HDHO unit as a short-term rental, defeating the purpose of the ordinance.
Although she didn’t mention the 2018 interaction in her presentation Tuesday, Sloan said that McClanahan’s answer is still consistent with the county’s interpretation of code because the question was not specific and could have referred to an outside owner who moved away after purchasing the unit.
While the key component of the land use code to some is clear — it is a misdemeanor to “sell or rent” an HDHO unit to a “household that does not qualify” — its consequences remain somewhat muddy.
Following Sloan’s presentation Tuesday, Grand County Commissioner Kevin Walker asked, “So, nothing prohibits anyone in the world from coming in and developing one of these HDHO units and renting out all the units. That’s OK, right?”
Sloan asked Walker to repeat the question, so he rephrased: “Someone — maybe they come from Salt Lake City, who knows where — they come; they buy a chunk of land in Moab; they build an apartment building; and then they rent out the units to qualified households. I’m assuming there’s no problem with that, right?”
With the question clarified, Sloan responded, “I have not analyzed that. I have analyzed a local developer, and a local developer can certainly hold these units.”
She concluded by saying, “I want you to be really careful not to ask me legal questions.”
Also: The Grand County School District Board of Education had a regular meeting.
I didn’t attend because the agenda didn’t look very interesting. The school district is usually pretty good about uploading audio recordings of meetings the day after they happen, but they have not yet done so for this week’s regular meeting (as of time of publication).