Appeals heard in HDHO saga
Three developers approved by Grand County to build workforce housing under the High-Density Housing Overlay have appealed a decision to restrict who is allowed to purchase — not just live in — the homes.
Attorneys representing the developers of Sandstone Cottages, Murphy Flats, and Peak View presented their arguments before Bruce C. Jenkins, the hearing officer in the appeals.
Jenkins is a founding member of Jenkins Bagley Sperry, a law practice based in St. George. His biography on the company’s website indicates that his practice “focuses on homeowner association law, real estate, construction defect, and business and civil litigation.”
The appeal is a quasi-judicial process overseen by an independent party acting as a judge. In this case, that independent party is Jenkins.
Jenkins will rule on whether developers are correct in their argument that the county violated its contract with them. They also argue the county violated developers’ vested rights by implementing rules that regulate who owns rather than who lives in the HDHO units.
The rules passed the Grand County Commission unanimously in March. They were the culmination of an effort by Grand County staff and elected officials. That effort kicked off when the developers of Murphy Flats tried to start selling units in their development.
Attorneys for the developers of Murphy Flats and Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan said that the disagreement on the rules came to light when they opened up reservations on units in the small subdivision.
As questions arose regarding who was eligible, how buyers would prove their eligibility and other details, the developers and county staff discovered they had a difference of understanding on the rules.
The difference in understanding eventually led to the county passing the March rules and regulations. County officials said that the rules were a clarification to the ordinance.
Developers, former county staff who wrote the HDHO, and others said the county were changing rather than clarifying the rules.
The matter is now before Jenkins, who is not expected to hand down decisions until next week at the earliest. Jenkins told the attorneys he would be unavailable over the coming weekend and would not be available until he returned.
The final hearing, which is for Murphy Flats, was scheduled for Thursday morning, May 6. The two other hearings, for Peak View and Sandstone Cottages, were held Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.
Jenkins’ line of questioning so far has focused on the meaning of the ordinance itself and whether that disagrees with the March rules. So far, Jenkins has not questioned the intent behind the HDHO ordinance, which would suggest that he could find the ordinance to be self-contradicting or otherwise unclear.
Jenkins said Monday that, if he found that the language of the ordinance was clear, the intent would not need to be considered. However, if the ordinance is unclear, intent would become relevant.
So far, he has hinted that the ordinance may be self-contradictory, but he has not said so in strong terms.
In response to an argument Monday by the attorney for the Sandstone Cottages developers, Jenkins said that the ordinance seemed clear enough, except that one section — the section the county is citing in its argument — complicates things.
“Absent 4.7.11, that would be very compelling, but given 4.7.11, I have to think about how that impacts the analysis,” Jenkins said.
County, city ask Arches to implement timed reservation system
With entrance shutdown at Arches National Park now a near-daily occurrence, officials from Grand County and the City of Moab want the park — a driver of economic activity in the valley — to make a change.
On Wednesday, the county unanimously voted and the city voted 4-1 in favor of a joint request to the park to implement a timed entry system.
“On behalf of the Grand County Commission and the Moab City Council, we respectfully request the National Park Service Regional Office allow the implementation of a pilot timed entry system at Arches National Park as soon as possible but not later than September 1st, 2021,” the letter reads.
The system would resemble that of the Smithsonians in Washington, D.C., according to Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann, or the growing number of Western parks and monuments implementing timed entry systems.
Reservations and timed entry, she hopes, will replace the ad hoc closures of the park’s entrance during peak hours.
During last year’s surge in visitation to Moab, Arches began occasionally closing the entrance as its parking lots filled. Once there was no more room at Delicate Arch, the Windows, and Devils Garden, the park stopped new entries until the congestion passes.
Colorado news outlets reported in March and April that Rocky Mountain National Park would join the party of timed reservation systems. It’s not the only one to do so recently.
Glacier National Park will begin taking reservations on April 29; Yosemite is continuing the ticketed entry system it implemented last year; Acadia National Park in Maine will require a reservation to do one of its classic drives; Hawaii’s Haleakala National Park also requires reservations.
Even Zion National Park, which uses a shuttle system that opponents of timed entry have cited as a better option, began requiring reservations last year to get on the shuttle.
Moab City Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton, who cast the lone vote against the joint letter, had questions about who would staff the back entrance into Arches via Willow Springs and what would happen with entry to Utahraptor State Park.
In the absence of immediate answers during the Tuesday meeting, Guzman-Newton voted against the letter.
Grand, Moab, and Castle Valley officials sent a similar letter in 2020. After Arches and Canyonlands closed to the public for about a month early in the pandemic, local officials asked the acting director of the National Park Service, David Vila, to phase in visitation.
As part of the request to phase in visitors, officials asked that a temporary timed entry system be used “as part of the adaptive recovery plan for Arches National Park.”
As for proposals to implement a shuttle system at Arches, open a second entrance to address congestion, and other ideas, McGann on Tuesday expressed skepticism.
She said that her understanding of park service studies on the matter lent credence to timed entry over other potential solutions. McGann said she “wouldn’t fight alternative studies,” but she would prefer, if timed entry works, “to use that money to study something else.”