Bluff Town Council approves purchase of old Bluff Elementary and short-term rental policy

The Bluff Town Council voted to move forward with an offer to purchase the old Bluff Elementary School and also approved a policy regarding short-term rentals in recent meetings.

At the July 20 meeting, the council approved a motion to pursue financing of their offer to purchase the old Bluff Elementary School.

The town has 60 days to secure the funding to purchase the school and four surrounding acres at a cost of $307,500. 

The San Juan School District listed the building for sale more than a year ago. At their June meeting, the San Juan School Board approved the sale of the building to the Town of Bluff by a vote of 3-1.

On July 20, the Bluff Town Council voted unanimously to approve the offer to purchase. Before the vote, Mayor Ann Leppanen and council member Linda Sosa expressed their opposition to the purchase, while town council members Brant Murray, Jim Sayers and Luanne Hook were committed to the purchase.

The town council originally explored purchasing the building last year with some guidance from representatives from the Community Impact Board.

An estimate from Tri-Hurst Construction placed needed renovation and purchase cost at $1.6 million. The council decided to withdraw from negotiations.

Now, one year later, the council has decided to move forward with an attempt to purchase the property.

Proponents of the purchase cite the favorable purchase price, the needed infrastructure, and the forward vision for the town. With rooms and offices in excess of the town’s needs, spaces could be rented to other government, nonprofit and startup organizations.

“The general plan telling us we need infrastructure, that was done by the community and by the Planning and Zoning commission, they’ve identified the infrastructure,” Hook said.

“We need to have a town hall spot; this is the perfect location. It’s ADA accessible, it’s a super location, it’s completely functional and it has a brand-new roof.

“So, to me it’s great. I’m really happy to move forward and find this funding and show that it’s a very feasible opportunity.”

Opponents to the purchase argue that those rentals are not sure, the cost to maintain the building is high and that the building is not turn-key ready, with a fire suppression system needed at an unknown cost.

The school district reportedly paid $200,000 for the system installed in the new Bluff Elementary school.

“That is a part of the piece that I think people will be looking at as they continue to work on the funding,” Leppanen said.

“What is it going to take financially beyond the $307,000 to move us into a functional, usable facility and how do we cover the expenses? I still have those concerns.”

The council has 60-days to secure funding to purchase the school. At that point, the council will take a final vote on the purchase of the old elementary school.

A week earlier, on July 13, the Bluff Town Council passed an ordinance to regulate short term rentals in the residential part of town, such as Airbnb and VRBO rentals.

The ordinance requires owners of short-term rentals to apply for a permit through the town. Permits are allowed in all non-residential zones in town. 

Permits for short-term rentals in the residential zone of Bluff will be available up until the end of this year. No additional permits in the residential zone will be issued from January 2021 forward.

If a permit in a residential area of Bluff is revoked or expires, no new permits will be issued for the same parcel.

The council approved the ordinance after several weeks of discussion and advice from the town’s attorney.

The ordinance is meant to stave off the negative impact on Bluff’s housing supply that has been seen throughout resort towns in the West.

The ordinance in its entirety can be found on the Bluff town website.

The council also received a report from Reagan Wytsalucy on the Utah State University extension community garden project at St. Christopher’s Mission.

Wytsalucy reported that the program has used $22,000 in grants to create the garden space in Bluff, including lumber for boxes, a large number of tools and a drip irrigation system.

More than 500 volunteer hours have been given in the garden, most of them on Friday mornings from 8:30 a.m. until noon, when there is open volunteer time.

Wytsalucy reported they are working to secure a funding source for the next several years to continue to grow vegetables and find a way to make that produce available to the community, possibly through the school district or a SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Council thanked Wytsalucy and St. Christopher’s Mission for their involvement in the community gardens.

San Juan Record

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