$2,000-a-night glamping eco-resort approved near Moab

The 16-unit retreat will include an activity center, two swimming pools and trails.

At long last, the luxury glamping “eco-resort” Entrada Moab has gotten the greenlight to pitch its tents at the intersection of highways 191 and 313.

The Grand County Commission approved an overnight accommodations zoning overlay for the development — the first it has approved in over a year and a half — at their Jan. 16 meeting in a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Trish Hedin dissenting.

The developer, Matt Kareus of Fort Collins, Colorado said he hopes the site will be open in a year and a half to two years. The development will still be required to submit a site plan and receive plat approval.

Commissioners cited the project’s conservation easement, employee housing and its small impact compared to development allowable under the site’s current zoning as reasons for their support.

“If people kind of look at the cost-benefit analysis, it delivers a lot to the county in terms of benefits,” Kareus told The Times-Independent. He said he took the time to understand the problems facing Grand County and develop his proposal accordingly.

The 16-unit retreat will include an activity center, two swimming pools and trails. It anticipates an average daily rate of $2,000 per unit and projects that the Transient Room Tax revenue generated from the project will be comparable to a 150-room hotel charging $200 a night.

The proposal was first denied by the county in February 2022, though commissioners stated that they would be interested in reviewing an amended proposal that included employee housing and ensured a permanent conservation easement for a portion of land on the property.

The new proposal includes five on-site housing units for employees, 20 off-site deed-restricted employee housing units and a conservation easement on 136 acres of the property.

“I am really excited about the protection of the land,” said Commissioner Mary McGann. “… Rarely would we have an opportunity where we could have that large of a swath of land that will remain untouched.”

Commission Vice Chair Kevin Walker highlighted that under the land’s current range and grazing zoning, one home could be built for every five acres of land. “That would work out to a lot on this parcel,” he said. “… We [shouldn’t] compare it to nothing at all happening on the land and it staying the pristine or semi-pristine place that it is, we should compare it to likely future courses of development.”

Commissioner Evan Clapper agreed. “I don’t want to call this evil, but it’s kind of like the lesser of two evils,” he said.

Hedin, the lone voice in opposition to the project, reiterated the concerns she has voiced in past meetings about the scarcity of water in the area, which would require the development to truck in water to the site, and the destruction of bighorn sheep habitats.

Kareus reiterated Walker’s argument about the potential for development on the site. “What could happen and what would eventually likely happen would … be most impactful in terms of water and impacts to wildlife,” he said.

Hedin also noted that the development would create more overnight accommodations units even though Moab is facing low occupancy rates.

“We hear from the lodging community all the time that they don’t have enough occupancy, and they put it on us” she told Kareus. “… You guys keep asking for more overnight accommodations. You can’t keep putting it on us that you’re not full.”

In 2019, the county enacted a six-month moratorium on all new overnight accommodation approvals. In 2020, when the freeze expired, the commission changed the process for approval of all overnight accommodations, requiring them to receive direct approval from the commission.

Since 2019, the county has approved two overnight accommodations, both far from Moab. The Sky Retreat, a 16-cabin development and the 12-unit Tin Roof Cabin Resort were approved in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

McGann said it was the county’s obligation to approve overnight accommodations. “[State legislators] were very very clear that we could not totally bring an end to ever approving such developments,” she said.

The discussion was colored in part by a packed house of residents who showed up to voice their concerns about the Kane Creek housing development. “If I’m in support of this I almost feel like I’m talking out of the side of my mouth,” said Commission Chair Jacques Hadler. “But I do think that this is a different beast than the Kane Springs Development,” he said. “Potential owners have shown good faith.”

Resident Sam Van Wetter raised concerns about the glamping site in public comment. “This application is rife with contradictions,” he said. “They say they will conserve water and at the same time they have swimming pools, they say that they’re going to protect the views but they have panoramic decks. … It seems again like we’re getting lip service from developers.”

He also said he was troubled by the affluent customers the development might attract. “[The development is] proud to say they will attract the billionaire class, and with all respect to billionaires, I think they have more than enough in Grand County,” he said.

Walker, however, saw this as an opportunity for the county. “I think some people just don’t like the idea of overnight accommodations focused on the super-wealthy,” said Walker. “… But as long as there is wealth inequality, we might as well get our slice of it, too.”

This article originally appeared in The Times-Independent.