We know that former Grand County Council Members Mary McGan and Curtis Wells and county staff who wrote the High-Density Housing Overlay ordinance are all on the same page when it comes to occupancy versus ownership of HDHO units.

We need rentals, and I have no problem, personally, having somebody from out of town buy it and then rent it to locals at a price that the locals can afford.

Former Grand County Council Member Mary McGann; May 3, 2021

It was my understanding as a council member that county planning and zoning staff intended for the HDHO ordinance to restrict the residency of the occupant but not the residency of the owner.

Former Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells; May 3, 2021

As the primary architect, facilitator, and author of Grand County’s High Density Housing Overlay (HDHO) ordinance, my intent for the policy was to restrict resident occupancy rather than property ownership. I intended for the residency and employment requirements to apply to the occupant of a HDHO lot or unit regardless of ownership only. I am confident this intention and interpretation was also shared by my staff at the time.

Former Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine; April 30, 2021

It was our intent when developing the HDHO to restrict the occupancy or use of the units to primary residency and active employment, not to restrict HDHO units and lots to exclusively be owned by actively employed households.

Former Grand County Community and Economic Development Specialist Kaitlin Myers; April 30, 2021

Besides Wells and McGann, there were four other people on the Grand County Council at the time that the ordinance passed who voted in favor of it. Former Grand County Council Member Jaylyn Hawk cast the lone vote against it.

I called each of those four and talked to them. Here’s what they said:

Evan Clapper

It really was sold as a tool to create opportunity for our local workforce.

Former Grand County Council Chair Evan Clapper; March 2, 2021

Clapper spoke about this matter in March when the Grand County Commission voted on HDHO rules and regulations that county staff prepared. Here’s part of what he said:

In the long process of getting the HDHO approved, the point of ownership came up early and didn’t really come back up a lot later.

Clapper; March 2, 2021

This point that it never really came back up again is true. The subject of having an outside owner rent units to locals came up explicitly only once in public discussions.

If the homeowner doesn’t live here, but they’re renting it out, would that qualify?


Yeah, 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.

Affordable Housing and Economic Development Coordinator JD McClanahan

Grand County Council workshop; June 5, 2018

It came up again in an emailed question to Clapper that he did not end up answering.

Is it your understanding that these units could be rentals OR owned by the primary resident? if it were a rental could it be ensured that the rental goes to folks making a seasonal/minimal type wage? We would love to see some self help homes done out where live, but recently talked to someone who just built in the development across from powerhouse lane.

Eve Maher in an email to Clapper; July 2, 2018

That exchange and the email are the full extent to which outside-owned rentals for locals was ever explicitly contemplated in public records or public meetings.

Here’s more of what Clapper said during the March 2021 meeting:

The intent of this was to create opportunities for our workforce. I never intended to ask locals to have this increased density in their backyard for second homeowner investment opportunities. I’m scared that if that was an option, someone could be working on a remodel and not renting it out.

Clapper; March 2, 2021

I called him up today again to talk this through. He said again that the ordinance “changed and evolved a lot over the months and months that we worked on it.” He called it a “very living document.”

Clapper said that “early on,” the county was trying to get “as many units of possible” out of the ordinance, but then it “became evident that there wasn’t support for a large number of units,” so the caps went in and a sunset clause and so forth.

Key, though, is that Clapper said he has always thought that investors could “charge whatever they want for rent,” because of the housing crisis, and “that would not necessarily keep prices down.” He added later, “Because there’s such a shortage, they can get away with that.”

So, that doesn’t get to the heart of the question: Did he intend to regulate occupancy or ownership? It does strongly suggest that he cares about ownership, but it doesn’t say that he has always cared about that.

Regardless, he did vote for the rules and regulations that he said “clarify” that ownership, not occupancy, is the key component.

Terry Morse

Quite frankly, I was against the HDHO in the original format of it.

Former Grand County Council Member Terry Morse; May 7, 2021

Morse voted for the High-Density Housing Overlay, but he always felt “the whole thing was premature, and I thought the concept itself… was ill-advised at the time.” So, why did he vote for it?

Morse said he “caved in” to voting for the HDHO because he had gotten his way on limits that he said he requested. He said he “pushed hard” and was “instrumental” in creating two caps on the ordinance that made it into the final version.

One of those caps was a two-year sunset clause; the other called for no more than 325 HDHO units to be approved through the ordinance.

I caved in because I got my way with the two-year and 300-unit caps.

Morse; May 7. 2021

In describing why he was skeptical of the ordinance, he pointed to three things:

  1. He wanted to reduce the impacts on people who didn’t want high-density housing in their backyard;
  2. He didn’t want “what’s happening now” to take place (the “struggle” over the meaning of the ordinance and other issues he thinks are “down the road that will have to be dealt with”);
  3. He said “other stuff is in the pipeline,” referring to affordable housing projects like Walnut Lane and Arroyo Crossing, and he wanted to see the impacts of those projects before going forward with the HDHO.

As for whether ownership or occupancy was the key, he didn’t say explicitly, but his comments strongly suggest that he wanted to avoid having outside investors purchasing HDHO units, under the belief that doing so would compromise the “locals-only” nature of the thing.

Greg Halliday

The intent was we wanted local ownership, and that’s fine, but I don’t know that there’s enough local people to buy what’s for sale. That’s where you run into the rub.

Former Grand County Council Member Greg Halliday; May 7, 2021

Halliday described that he simultaneously saw the HDHO as being for locals and that there was a downside to restricting who could own the units. Doing so would limit the feasibility of affordable housing.

Halliday said that he does “not think there are enough local people” to buy all the HDHO units that are currently in the pipeline for construction. He said it would be “relatively easy to exhaust the local market, people who have the money to buy those places.”

There’s limited money here in Moab and Spanish Valley. There’s only so much money.

Halliday; May 7. 2021

He said that “affordability is not over $100,000,” adding that being people making $15 per hour “just don’t make enough money,” to afford to buy anything more expensive.

When I described the statements from Levine, Myers, Wells, and McGann, Halliday said that he believed that was “probably their intent,” but quickly returned to his earlier point by saying, “Whether or not there was enough people to actually live in those places — locals — I don’t know.”

Rory Paxman

I tried to do everything for the county I could when I was on the council.

Former Grand County Council Member Rory Paxman; May 7, 2021

Paxman was brief in his statements. He wanted to make sure people hear him say that he worked hard as a member of the council.

When I described the positions of Wells, McGann, Myers, and Levine, he said that he “agrees with them” about occupancy versus ownership. That was the extent of his comments on the matter.