Commission says no to beer for Montezuma Creek store, yes to Spanish Valley zone change
by David Boyle
Members of the San Juan County Commission denied a request to sale beer at a Montezuma Creek store, approved a zone change to a 72-acre project in Spanish Valley, and received reports from a state department at their May 16 meeting.
The Commission denied the request for off-premise beer sales at the Family Dollar in Montezuma Creek.
County Clerk/Auditor Lyman Duncan laid out the application for the privately-owned property in the Navajo strip of San Juan County. Duncan explained the process for approval started with the local authority, in this case the county commission, signing a consent form. The business then applied to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. If approved, then it is back to the commission for the license to sell beer.
The application received pushback from local elected leaders. Aneth Chapter Secretary Brenda Brown voiced the chapter’s strong opposition to the application.
“Our Navajo people have a long and ongoing battle with alcohol and its effect on those who are addicted. Alcohol is the reason for domestic violence, broken up families, and criminal activity,” said Brown.
Brown also notes that without local public safety available in the area, calls for assistance can take hours. Brown also noted the loss of life of both those impacted by impaired drivers traveling through the area and the possibility of people freezing after being unable to find their way home in the winter. “This is what Family Dollar will encourage by bringing alcohol to Montezuma Creek, just so the company can increase its profits. This would be a shameful thing.”
While there is another location in Montezuma Creek to purchase beer, Commissioner Sylvia Stubbs supported denying the application.
“I agree with the comments with representatives from the Aneth chapter. There is really a lot of trouble with alcohol and the other problem is compounded because when they’re in need of help, help is a long way in coming.”
The commission voted unanimously to deny the consent form.
Members of the commission also unanimously approved a rezone application for a 72-acre development project in Spanish Valley known as the Balance Rock Resort. The approved rezone application changed the three parcels from a Spanish Valley Residential District to Spanish Valley Planned Community District, Residential Flex.
The proposed development, located northwest of Kens Lake, has plans for 217 residential units including 99 single-family lots, 42 duplexes with 84 units, 34 condominium units and 130 rooms in a lodge. The plans also include a community clubhouse, playground and open space.
The rezone application came to the County Commission following a public hearing in March by the Planning Commission. The commission tabled the item to ask for a legal opinion about whether the accommodation overlay applies to properties in residential flex.
At an April 13 meeting, the planning commission voted to recommend approval of the rezone application to the county commission, but by a 3-2 split vote.
The Planning Commission asked the developer to come back to work through the Zone Plan process if the rezone was approved by the commission.
At recent planning commission meetings, members of the Spanish Valley community spoke out against the rezone. Four northern San Juan County residents spoke at the May 16 commission meeting, including Kylee Miller who noted the ample overnight options in the Moab area.
“We do not want any resorts being built in our neighborhoods. What we need is affordable housing for our nurses, teachers, librarians, and law enforcement. This community has said over and over no more nightly rentals, no more tourist accommodations.”
Fellow northern San Juan County resident Colby Smith said the rezone is inconsistent with the Spanish Valley area plan and ordinances, noting the residential flex zone should be close to Highway 191 and buffered from residential neighborhoods.
“The proposed rezone doesn’t meet either of these criteria. It’s more than a mile from 191, as far as 191 as you can get without being on a cliff. In addition, it’s surrounded by residential neighborhoods so it doesn’t meet the criteria of being buffered from those neighborhoods.”
Speaking at the county commission meeting, County Planning and Zoning Administrator Scott Burton addressed the comments, noting that the area plan is a ‘high altitude’ guide for the area, and while flex areas are generally close to the highway, the plan is meant to be a guide to help planning.
Burton noted comments by County Economic Director Elaine Gizler at planning and zoning meetings, where Gizler noted that larger tracts like the 72-acre resort allows for a holistic masterplan rather than the current subdivisions.
Commissioner Stubbs said while she has wrestled with the issue she ultimately sides with the tax revenue benefits the project would bring to the county.
“We have a large area to provide services. Are we going to start chopping services or figure out ways to create opportunity but not only for our children in the rest of the county?”
Members of the commission unanimously approved the rezone for Balanced Rock Resort.
At the meeting, members of the commission also held a public hearing for an ordinance to update county code relating to administrative appeals.
The county administrative appeals process allows citizens, property owners, and businesses to appeal county commission administrative decisions through an independent appeals judge in cases where the appeals process is a better option than expensive legal battles.
Members of the commission passed the ordinance updating the administrative appeals process. The update featured input from County Administrator Mack McDonald, the county attorney’s office, and the county administrative appeals Judge Lyn Creswell.
At the meeting, members of the commission also received a report from Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner Craig Buttars, and Deputy Commissioner Kelly Pehrson, who is a former San Juan County Administrator.
The Department is on a state-wide tour highlighting challenges facing Utah’s Ag and Food industry and the departments work to address those challenges. Among those highlighted included Agristructure, Workforce Development, and Supply Chain Development.
The report included statistics for San Juan County, including an annual $16,776,000 of market value agriculture products sold, with 51 percent as crops and 49 percent as livestock.
The department also noted that there are 823 farms in the county, a 10 percent increase since 2012, with 96 percent of farms family owned.
While the county has 1.6 million acres of farmland, just over 7,500 acres are irrigated. The county is fifth in the state in grains, oilseed, dry beans and dry peas production, with nearly 35,000 acres growing wheat for grain. Of the county’s $8.1 million in total livestock sales, cattle and calf sales make up 72 percent.
Highlighted challenges include the availability of food processing and distribution facilities to shore up the supply chain in the state, as well as the concern that the average age of a producer is 65 years old.
Programs highlighted included the new Utah Food Security Processing Grant. With $1 million funded by the legislature in a pilot program, and an additional $1 million for 2023, the Department of Agriculture and Food hopes to see additional funds made available as they saw more than 79 applications for grants to fund new or updated equipment and other processes to help food processing.
Among those awarded in the pilot program is an award for 4-Point Meat Processing in Monticello.
Other efforts highlighted include the Regional Food Business Center program to help producers navigate applications for federal funds, as well as a state water conservation program, which administered $50 million since 2019 to upgrade irrigation systems to improve water efficiency.
The state projects water savings at 172,847 acre-feet annually saved by upgrades to systems for farmers, ranchers, and irrigation companies.
Members of the commission thanked the department for their report, with Commissioner Bruce Adams adding extra praise to Pehrson for his work with Utah Farm Bureau Federation and others to bring truckloads of sheep to tribal nations in San Juan County during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
At the meeting, the commission also received an update on the Utah State University Monument Valley building from USU Blanding Associate Vice-President Kristian Olsen.
The project to upgrade has been years in the making. The university currently houses classes in the old Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, over the past few years the University has begun plans for the new USU Monument Valley building with the university securing a 75-year lease on San Juan School District property.
Olsen shared with the commission that USU has raised 10 million of the needed 14 million budget for the new building. With five-million committed from the Utah state legislature and an additional five-million committed from the University president which Olsen noted was not usual for buildings. The university is also working with Navajo Nation Council Delegate Herman Daniels Jr. on drafting legislation for possible financial support from the tribe. The university is also diligently seeking funds from a number of charitable organizations.
Olsen reports the new building will include a small welding lab, a nursing and CNA lab, a business development center, and classroom and study rooms.
The project is currently in the planning and design phase, with plans to move into the architecture and engineering phase through December.
Commissioners shared their support of the project and the university. Commissioner Jamie Harvey thanked Olsen for the university's land acknowledgments at recent graduation and the effort to make the building in Monument Valley reflective of the community.
“You’re incorporating the philosophical elements of the Navajo culture in establishing the building that’s also honoring the local community and their desire to make education holistic that’s also an awesome thing to see.”
While the University is working on high-level ideas and doesn’t have drawings yet, Olsen noted that they are working to make the building fit the landscape and culture in Monument Valley.
“What we wanted to do was be very intentional so that the local community and people that live in the Monument Valley area feel like ‘this is ours,’ this isn’t just another building that was plopped down somewhere.”
At the meeting members of the commission also approved a grant for funds for Monticello cancer screenings related to the old Uranium mill, approved an understanding to bring fiber optic to the La Sal library, and an award for asphalt repair and replacement projects at county buildings.