Jamie Harvey elected chairman of San Juan County Commission in first meeting of the new year. Economic development, Planning and Zoning continue to dominate agenda

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the San Juan County Commission appointed a new chair to the commission, received economic reports and approved an overnight overlay zone for two Spanish Valley developments at their latest meeting.
Members of the county commission appointed Commissioner Jamie Harvey to act as commission chair for 2024, with Commissioner Sylvia Stubbs appointed as vice chair for the year.
Commission members also had the opportunity to review assignments to boards, and chose to keep the same assignments as the year previous.
Members of the county commission heard from County Director for Economic Development and Visitor Services Elaine Gizler at the January 2 meeting.
Among the highlights for the department included the promotion of the upcoming housing assessment for the area.
Gizler explained the county had received a grant to conduct an assessment of housing needs throughout the county.
With a consultant on board, Gizler explained they’ll be holding public meetings in late January and early February throughout the county.
Including meetings in Monticello, LaSal, Blanding, Bluff, and Monument Valley, with work being done for other locations.
Gizler also presented a memorandum of understanding between the county and International Economic Development Council, to bring a Economic Recovery Corps Fellowship to the county.
Gizler explained the agreement will allow the fellow, Mick Thornton, to work as an independent contractor for two and a half years.
Thornton will facilitate the county housing assessment in “moving forward to identify housing needs, locate developers, meet with Southeast Utah Housing Authority, meet with organizations that support housing in areas of poverty.”
The program comes at no cost to the county as Thornton, (selected among five candidates interviewed) will move to the county to help conduct and work on implementation of the housing needs plan.
Members of the commission unanimously approved the MOU.
At the meeting, members of the commission also approved a contract presented by Gizler with Utah.com as the site features several San Juan County attractions and generates leads for the county. 
The commission also approved a budgeted contract with AirDNA, a company that tracks overnight rental occupancy in the county.
With the inclusion of Airbnb, VRBO’s and other platforms the report gives the county a more complete view of occupancy and average daily rates through all lodging properties in the county, as well as the demographics about who comes to the area, for how long, and other data points.
Members of the commission also approved a contract with a group called Visit USA Parks, which helps target international tourists to visit the area.
Gizler shared that this round they’ll be focused on targeting the number three and number seven ranked countries who visit San Juan county the most, those being Germany and the Netherlands.
As part of her presentations and reports Gizler also highlighted the need for tourism in the county, noting that should the sale of Goulding’s go through to the Navajo Nation and the tribe choose to remove the property from the tax roles the county would lose 23 percent of its total Transient Room Tax (TRT).
While TRT is earmarked for promotion of tourism, it also can be used in part for other general fund expenditures including covering law enforcement costs.
Gizler laid it out, “As much as people don’t want it in San Juan County, we need launching properties here.
“We need to bring in more Transient Room Tax. Unless the residents want to pay more, then we need to have development here for lodging properties.”
At the meeting, members of the commission also approved the application of the Spanish Valley Overnight Accommodations Overlay to two different developments. 
The 2.5 acre El Rancho development is located off south Ranch Trail in a residential flex zone.
The submitted development includes structures around a cul de sac type street in the property, the application was recommended for approval by the planning commission with a vote of five in favor and one abstention.
Members of the commission unanimously approved the overlay.
The commission also approved an overnight overlay for the 45.5 acre Valley Estates Development, located off Planesfield drive near Kens Lake. 
The planning commission voted positively to recommend the project with six voting yay and one voting nay. 
County Administrator Mack McDonald explained there was considerable discussion in the planning commission regarding the application of the overlay so far from the highway/commercial zone.
McDonald explained the area was flexing into the nearby approved Balance Rock Resort.
“We see this as a complementary development to Balance Rock resort. We’re working with the developer in a continuation of infrastructure, so both of them will participate in infrastructure development here.”
The meeting also included a public hearing for a community development block grant.
McDonald explained the State of Utah will receive $5.5 million with an anticipation of $778,000 for the southeast Utah region.
McDonald said while the application process is arduous, the county has received the grant previously, including the use of the grant to fund the installation of an elevator in the county building.
McDonald further clarified that the Navajo Nation also administers CDBG meaning south county projects would apply through the reservation.
One comment was provided by Monticello resident Doug Allen who asked for clarification on who else would be applying for those funds.
McDonald explained that the area including Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan counties, would all be eligible for the funds. With an evaluation committee using a grading rubric to score projects before awarding funds.

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