Prescott airport plan clears planning commission

PRESCOTT –A plan that maps out the future for about 50 square miles of land around the Prescott Airport crossed its first official hurdle this week.

At its Thursday voting session, the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission approved the Airport Specific Area Plan (ASAP), a document that aims to protect the airport from future residential encroachment.

Although the commission's vote was unanimous, the plan generated plenty of discussion during the public hearing that preceded the decision.

At issue for many of the people who attended the hearing was a plan recommendation that an asphalt batch plant could locate in the future in an industrially zoned area north of the airport.

Several of the people who spoke to the commission maintained that the emissions from a batch plant would have a negative impact on the economic development at the nearby airpark, and on the airport itself.

And Bob Fox, representing the Antelope Hills and Golf-links subdivisions, also pointed out that the hundreds of people who live in the area would strongly oppose a batch plant so near their neighborhoods.

The commissioners agreed that the area may not be the most appropriate for a batch plant.

"I think we can set this situation at ease," said Commissioner George Wiant. "The batch plant – forget it. I think that's a dead issue."

Other commissioners also voiced concerns about the possibility of having a batch plant locate on the industrial land in the future.

Ultimately, they decided to recommend that the City Council consider any future applications for heavy industrial uses on a case-by-case basis, and that a batch plant would not be automatically allowed in the area.

Another area of concern for some in the audience was the amount of open space that the airport plan designates on the privately owned ranch land that is near the airport.

Bill Brownlee of M3 Companies, representing the Granite Dells Ranch and the Point of Rocks Ranch, said that although the ranch owners support the idea of open space, they have concerns about the sweeping designations of the airport plan.

"Our feeling is, the planning for open space should be done when we are into more of a micro-level of planning," Brownlee said.

He added that the ranch owners have no immediate plans to develop their property, and that planning for open space should occur if such plans materialize in the future.

Although the ranch owners "support the overall goals and direction of the (airport) plan," Brownlee said the open space designation on its land-use map "draws a swath of green on it that could represent 2,000 acres (of open space). That's poor planning."

The ranchers also objected to a recommendation of an earlier version of the plan that would have required wildlife-friendly fencing in the area.

Eric Gardner, field supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said the wildlife-friendly fencing would involve using a barb-less wire on the bottom strand of the fences. He pointed out that would allow antelope to get under the fences safely.

Gardner also pushed for a wider wildlife corridor, which would allow for better movement and survival of the antelope.

But Brownlee said the ranchers were concerned that the requirement for wildlife-friendly fences would mean that they must change the existing fences on the land. "There is a lot of barbed wire fencing on this property," he said. "And the antelope currently exist there. I don't think that is something that should be mandated."

Also voicing concerns about the plan was Catherine Williams of the State Land Department, who pointed out that the department will soon begin its own conceptual land-use plans for the area. And it is "obliged to determine the highest and best uses for the trust land," she said. That could be in conflict with some of what the airport plan designates.

Julie Pindzola, planning manager for the city, said the city has worked with the State Land Department in the past on its conceptual land-use plans. She said she expects an "amicable integration of the two jurisdictions."

Added Pindzola: "For the most part, we're probably on the same page."

The plan will now go to the City Council for final review, but city officials were uncertain on Thursday when that would happen.

Contact Cindy Barks at cbarks@prescottaz.com.