County approves revamped ordinance governing rural recreation projects

ST. GEORGE — Just as Washington County has grown in population over the years, so have demands for use of the land for rural recreational purposes like “glamping.” As developers moved in to create such recreation projects, county officials have said they were put in a bind when they realized the ordinance governing approval of these projects wasn’t as clear as it could be.

A deluxe tent at Moab’s “glamping” resort, Moab Under Canvas, from 2014. This is an example of the type of outdoor recreation project in Washington County that the County Commission placed under a new outdoor recreation project ordinance. | File photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

After several months of review and a temporary moratorium on approving new projects, county officials have approved an ordinance governing rural recreational grounds and facilities, replacing the old ordinance they considered too board and unclear.

The Washington County Commission voted unanimously in favor of the revamped ordinance during a public meeting Tuesday, which they say provides a clearer picture of what developers can expect.

The ordinance itself largely deals with the creation of facilities like campgrounds and areas where temporary structures such as tents and yurts would to be set up, as well as more permanent structures like cabins and related rural recreational infrastructure.

“It was time to set some more clear development rules and what’s expected of various uses in the county and get rid of any of those nebulous ‘What can I do here,’ ‘What do I do there’ questions,’” County Commissioner Gil Almquist said.

Previous to the ordinance revision, the Washington County Planning Commission would occasionally have to table approval of a project due to not having enough information providing guidance on rural recreational facilities.

The Washington County Commission, St. George, Utah, Sept. 17, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Undefined issues related to the overall density of a project, sewage and water availability, fire protection and other factors, Almquist said. The new ordinance helps clarify all of these issues.

“The overall concept is it’s all up front, it’s all transparent – ‘What are you going to do and how are you going to do it?’” Almquist said.

Under the new ordinance, which places rural recreational grounds and facilities under the umbrella of the county’s “planned development” guidelines, developers will need to provide the Planning Commission and county staff with an overall conceptual design of a proposed project.

The conceptual plan will be produced using a “checklist” created under the new ordinance, Almquist said, helping developers “cross their t’s and dot their i’s” before submitting the plan for review and approval.

“Our hope is the Planning Commission – the county’s land use authority – can now review those items, especially under this consideration, and have more of their questions answered up front by the applicant,” Almquist said.

County officials met with developers to determine how best to address the ordinance issue, said Scott Messel, Washington County’s community development director.

The county wanted to craft a new ordinance that would balance the need for more recreational facilities while also making sure it “was done in a responsible and good manner,” Messel said.

He said it was determined the best way to do that was under the county’s planned development ordinance.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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