Legislature on track to grant $1M to Kane Creek developer

Details are scant for new workforce housing nonprofit helmed by Craig Weston.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Looking northwest from Old City Park in the Moab Valley on Feb. 1.

The Utah Legislature is poised to funnel $1 million into a fledgling workforce housing nonprofit helmed by Kane Creek developer Craig Weston.

It’s one of several murky new housing-related nonprofits associated with Weston. Another, the Utah Workforce Housing Alliance, was founded in 2022 and as of early this year did not appear to have done anything except donate to a Grand County political party.

Utah Workforce Housing Advocacy, the nonprofit seeking funding, is a three-month-old organization described on the Legislature’s website as a group that “advocates for affordable housing for first-time homebuyers, workforce housing, and housing stock in general for Utahns.”

Weston, one of the three business partners of Kane Creek Preservation and Development, originally requested $2.5 million for the group from the Legislature’s Business, Economic Development, and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee on Feb. 2.

Though the recording of that agenda item is missing from the Legislature website, minutes demonstrate that Weston — listed as the group’s executive director — described the request alongside Sen. Dan McCay, the lawmaker who introduced the appropriation.

McCay did not respond to requests for comment.

Weston, when asked for comment, described the organization’s goal as “nothing short of a complete overhaul of housing policy in Utah.”

He said the organization, which is registered under the political consulting group Election Hive, has bipartisan support and aims to both shape land use processes and help the public “better understand the underlying issues and challenges.”

“Development and land use remain very complicated matters and result in a lot of passion among a lot of people — understandably,” Weston wrote in an email. “But it is critical that all of us find better ways to balance property rights, local community concerns and market economics.”

Per its appropriations request, the organization is more focused on outreach — educating Utahns about existing efforts to increase first-time homeownership and housing for low-income individuals.

“This could be done by increasing housing units for sale and rent at all price points,” reads a statement in the appropriations request.

While the business subcommittee downgraded the group’s funding to $200,000, less than 10% of the initial request, the more-powerful Executive Appropriations Committee on Feb. 23 jacked the amount back up to $1 million.

With just a few days remaining before the Legislature’s March 1 deadline to approve next year’s budget, time is ticking for a request of such magnitude to change.

That hasn’t stopped some Moab residents from protesting, however. Several locals associated with a group that opposes the Kane Creek project, called Kane Creek Development Watch, released a statement questioning whether the appropriation would be used to bankroll outreach efforts for the Colorado River-adjacent project.

For some local affordable housing developers, the swiftness and size of the appropriation is “perplexing.”

“There are so many grant and loan programs through the state that honestly have a lot of hoops to jump through and have a lot of reporting requirements, particularly for this amount of money,” said Kaitlin Myers.

A Moab City councilor and executive director of the Moab Area Community Land Trust, Myers clarified she was not speaking on behalf of either organization.

“It’s frustrating and perplexing,” she continued, “to see that this nonprofit, which was created four months ago, is being recommended a million dollars with less than a paragraph’s worth of explanation for what the fund would go toward or how they would be held accountable.”

Myers, who also sits on several housing boards in the state, said during this General Session the Legislature has denied over $200 million in housing-related funding requests, including some from programs run by the state itself.

“It just begs the question of why the state is moving forward with a million dollars towards a nonspecific request from a brand-new entity when they’re not even funding … their own avenues to support housing,” Myers said.

Another workforce-housing nonprofit related to Weston has received community attention not for money it will receive, but money it has distributed.

Weston donated $6,000 to the Grand County Republican Party in 2022 through the Utah Workforce Housing Alliance, another nonprofit that at the time was registered under the name of his brother, Kael Weston.

A Democratic candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in 2022, Kael Weston clarified that the donation had been made without his knowledge. He added that he’s not directly involved in the Kane Creek development but has been pushing for conservation easements or affordable housing on the property.

Craig Weston described the workforce housing alliance as an emergent policy forum focused on advancing solutions to the state’s housing crisis.

He said the bipartisan group’s first donation went to the local Republican Party because it’s the part of the state with which he is most familiar.

“Unfortunately, Grand County has become a case study of lack of action on housing and some unnecessary antagonism with the state Legislature,” Weston wrote in an email. “I hope the situation improves and intend to be part of finding real housing solutions going forward, not just in Grand but statewide.”

Weston and his Kane Creek business partners, Trent Arnold and Tom Gottlieb, have indeed pursued workforce housing projects in town. Their attempt to build over 100 units on a Murphy Lane parcel floundered in July after the Grand County Commission declined to sell some its adjacent property.

Weston said future donations from the group could support candidates of either party who “are working toward common ground and real results.”

“There is no partisan litmus test when it comes to good ideas and better housing policy,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The Times-Independent.