Concern about Spanish Valley planning efforts
A multi-year planning process to develop ordinances in Spanish Valley has been put on hold – at least for the short term – after a series of public hearings at the San Juan County Commission meeting on March 19.
Several residents of Pack Creek, a small enclave of approximately 40 properties adjacent to Spanish Valley, attended the meeting and complained that they had not been included in the planning effort.
A motion by Commissioner Bruce Adams, to adopt four amendments to govern growth in Spanish Valley, died for lack of a second.
Afterwards, Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy requested the county hold “one more public hearing and let the people know what is going to take place.”
A meeting on codes and ordinances for the Spanish Valley area will take place on Wednesday, April 3, at 7 p.m. in the Grand Water and Sewer office building located at 3025 East Spanish Trail Road in Spanish Valley.
The difference of opinion expressed at the meeting is striking.
The Pack Creek residents expressed concern that they were not included and suggested that the county has avoided an effort to include the public in the planning process.
One Pack Creek resident, Carolyn Dailey, said, “As far as I know, the majority of people in that part of San Juan County, in Spanish Valley, are terribly opposed to all this development.”
County officials, who have been involved in a two-year planning process, believe they have gone out of their way to involve the public. And they point to nearly unanimous participation in the new water and sewer projects in Spanish Valley as evidence of overwhelming support for the efforts.
Regardless of the planning efforts, it appears that significant development is on the horizon in Spanish Valley. The School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) owns approximately 5,000 acres of land in the valley and is, by far, the largest landowner.
It is anticipated that SITLA will announce in coming weeks that a Love’s Truck Stop will be built in Spanish Valley. The SITLA plans for development in Spanish Valley include hundreds of homes and, eventually, thousands of residents.
For decades, development efforts in Spanish Valley have been marked by a hands-off approach. Under current ordinances, “anything goes” is the best way to describe commercial development along Highway 191.
Landmark Design, led by Mark Vlasic, was hired by the county to help create a new plan to coordinate development efforts in Spanish Valley. After five months of consideration and eventual approval by the San Juan County Planning Commission, the plan was ready for a public hearing before the Commission.
Vlasic outlined the four proposed ordinances in the public hearing.
They include an ordinance for development along the highway, for development in the residential district, for the planned community zones, and for water-efficient landscaping.
A fifth proposed ordinance, for Dark Sky regulations, did not clear the Planning Commission and was not presented at the hearing.
Vlasic said the Spanish Valley Area Plan, which was adopted by the Commission in April, 2018, set the direction for the future.
“This is a different vision for the valley,” said Vlasic. “They did not want to create a community like Moab” and added that Spanish Valley would be “the antithesis of Moab.”
Vlasic added, “The plan will create an internal community in the valley, with Spanish Drive being the main street of the community.”
“This is well planned, more robust and thorough than the current plan,” said Vlasic. “It keeps incompatible uses away.”
He adds that the plan includes a lot of thought and detail about the types of development. It includes a wide range of housing, from large-lot single family homes to higher density uses and town homes.
“The current plan is agriculture-based, with commercial allowed anywhere now,” said Vlasic. “That never ends up with a very good development pattern.”
Vlasic also suggested that a Night Sky Ordinance could be considered as a separate ordinance at another time.
Elise Ehrler, of SITLA, said SITLA supports the changes to the Spanish Valley plan.
Brian Torgerson, who also works for SITLA, said the ordinance has been through lots of public hearings and added that the comments from the public make for a better ordinance.
“It is very difficult to stop growth,” said Torgerson. “The best way is to organize it in a way that it is disciplined, makes sense, and minimizes impacts.”
“Spanish Valley will continue to see growth pressure,” said Torgerson. “These ordinances are a good start. The existing ordinances are old and outdated. It is time for an update.”
Public comment concerning various aspects of the Spanish Valley plan was expressed by Sarah Fields, Jeff Mattson, Bill Love, Patrick Baril, Carolyn Dailey, Susan Burley, and Connie Witt.
Concern was expressed about the Dark Sky Ordinance, water development, dust mitigation, raptor surveys, archaeological studies, a private airstrip, and putting “industrial complexes in the middle of a residential area.”
San Juan County Administrator Kelly Pehrson said he has been a part of the planning process from the beginning. He said there have been numerous public hearings, town hall meetings, mailers inviting the public to the meetings, and even door-to-door efforts to get input.
Pehrson said there are around 230 residences in Spanish Valley and “240 properties have signed up for the water and sewer. They are for the development. Growth is coming, and it is great to have organized growth for these developments.”
Walter Bird, who is the Planning and Zoning Director for San Juan County, said, “It is frustrating to hear the Planning Commission get thrown under the bus for not doing their due diligence, when that is exactly what they have done.
“This has been in the works for well over a year. These people, at the eleventh hour, are holding up a year’s worth of work saying they didn’t know, when they didn’t make the attempt to know until this meeting.”
Bird said the Planning Commission has discussed the ordinance for more than a year, and it has been an item on the agenda for five meetings since it was first formally presented in November.
Bird said, “This includes public hearings to discuss the exact ordinance. These are noticed meetings, available to all, and they didn’t attend.”
Commissioner Adams moved to approve the proposed ordinances, stating, “After the many public hearings and several years of work, I think it is high time we have an ordinance that applies to that area.”
The motion died for lack of a second.
Commissioner Grayeyes said he is concerned that residents of Pack Creek were not included in the planning and outlined several additional concerns. “Until those differences are resolved,” he added, “I won’t support it.”
After the first motion failed, Commissioners tabled a second public hearing regarding the Spanish Valley SITLA Phase One PC Zone Plan.
A third public hearing was held, this one regarding a proposed Business License Ordinance for unincorporated areas of San Juan County.
After the hearing, Commissioners tabled consideration of adopting the ordinance.
The proposed ordinance would require businesses outside of incorporated areas to have a business license from the county, similar to the business licenses that are required by municipalities.
Walter Bird said, “We tried to make it balanced to meet the needs of the county but not be overly restrictive to the residents.”
Bird said one purpose of the ordinance is “so we know what business is occurring. This is especially troubling in areas like Spanish Valley, where businesses are taking place in residential areas.”
Bird added that tracking vacation rentals is a major reason for the proposed ordinance, but he added that “it needs to be broad-ranging so it is fair to everyone.”
The proposal did not include “agriculture products,” home-based businesses, or businesses on Native American reservations.
A number of questions were asked regarding the proposal, including why Native American reservations are not included and how “agriculture products” are defined.
Commissioner Grayeyes said, “I would like to know the number. It is a good instrument to gather information.”
Public comment on the proposal was offered by Bill Love, Sarah Fields, Carol Van Steeter, Maryleen Tahy, and Burton Black.
In the end, it was tabled by Commissioners.
A motion was made by Commissioner Adams for a resolution to support oil and gas leases on BLM land in 2018. The motion died for the lack of a second.
Commissioner Grayeyes explained his opposition to the motion, saying, “Why paint the same horse a different color? Mr. Adams has already said that this has gone through. It is a done deal.”
A resolution outlining the process to provide supporting documentation for Commission meetings passed by a 2-1 vote.
In other public comment, Steve Pearson said signs have been removed from roads south of Bluff. If San Juan County is not allowed to do maintenance, Pearson said, “The tribe needs to do something with the roads. Get us some addresses out there!”
Harry Johnson, of McCracken Mesa, expressed concern about oil exploration. He said he is concerned about the underground water in the area.
In other matters, it was reported that the Utah State Legislature passed a broadband bill that will fund the extension of a fiber network all the way to Navajo Mountain.
“As far as I am concerned, this was the most significant piece of legislation for San Juan County in the recent legislative session,” said Commissioner Adams.
Phase 1 of the project is currently extending the fiber network from Blanding to Bluff and Montezuma Creek through White Mesa. It is already funded.
The new legislation provides funds for Phase 2, which will extend the network west to Mexican Hat, Oljato and eventually to Navajo Mountain.
The state funds will extend the fiber network to schools and other public facilities. After it is installed, private companies who are partnering on the project can extend the services to private entities. Emery Telcom is the private partner for the projects.
Economic Development Director Natalie Randall suggested that Commissioners attend an upcoming meeting about the fiber project in White Mesa.
Randall said she hopes Commissioners will be able to help the White Mesa community “understand what fiber can provide for the community.”
Randall said there is some concern about the impact of the project on the ground in White Mesa, despite her assertion that there will be no impact.
“The fiber will go on existing poles,” said Randall. “There is no impact on the ground.”
Commissioners approved the purchase of software to track short-term rentals in San Juan County.
County Visitor Services Director Natalie Randall said the program will help the county determine local property owners who are not collecting or paying the Transient Room Tax (TRT) on short-term rental properties.
“They are supposed to be taxed and paying taxes, but they are not paying,” said Randall.
The system costs $20,000.
Commissioners approved a license for beer sales at Hite Marina and approved Sam Pittman for a fulltime position at the county landfill.
Kaaron Jorgen, from the Canyon Country Partnership (CCP), discussed the project she has led for the past 24 years. The CCP was initially created to mitigate recreation impacts in the Moab area but quickly grew to include San Juan, Carbon, and Emery counties.
She invited Commissioners to attend the periodic CCP meetings, which she described as relaxed, informal meetings that include land and resource managers and county officials.
Extension Director Paige Wray introduced Ragan Wytsalucy, a new extension agent in San Juan County. Wytsalucy is finalizing her masters degree from the Utah State University plant sciences program, with a focus on Native foods.
In open time, Commissioner Grayeyes expressed concern about San Juan County planning efforts.
“The plans in the books now, most all of them delineate Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff, but not the little places,” said Grayeyes. “None is indicative of Mexican Water, Navajo Mountain, Oljato, all those areas. Why are we being excluded? I hope to see in the future that we are reflected. That would be my recommendation.”
County Administrator Kelly Pehrson said, “The reservation is federal land, so it is hard to plan specific purposes on federal land. We would love your help to plan, but it is federal land. I don’t know what else we can do.”
Commissioner Adams said the county would prefer to “coordinate rather than separatism” but expressed his frustration after 14 years of trying to work with the Navajo Nation.
“We have been told by the Navajo Nation and NDOT (Navajo Department of Transportation) that we have no rights to even maintain roads on the reservation,” said Adams.
Adams said, “I look forward to both Willie and Kenneth opening up that dialogue with the Navajo Nation that we have never had before.”
Commissioner Maryboy said, “I am still knocking on the door to the president’s office.”