Candidates differ on perceptions of growth

PRESCOTT – Over-heated growth. No-growth. Reasonable growth. Managed growth.

Depending on the stance of the candidates, any of those terms might be among the characterizations and predictions for Prescott, as a part of the ongoing campaign for four positions on the City Council.

During a forum at the Las Fuentes Resort Village on Friday, the six council candidates and two mayoral candidates continued their debate about whether the community is growing too fast or whether population is increasing at a reasonable rate.

Growth issues defined much of the campaign leading up to the September primary, and it also is playing a prominent role in the campaign preceding the Nov. 8 general election.

More than 150 Las Fuentes residents and other locals turned out for the forum that allowed for nearly an hour and a half of questions from the audience.

During his opening comments, candidate Howard Mechanic broached the growth issue, maintaining that the current rate of growth would result in an area-wide population of more than 400,000 within the next generation.

“If you think it’s a problem to have 400,000 people here in one generation, then you need someone on the council who will deal with the over-heated growth,” Mechanic told the crowd.

That led to a number of growth-related questions from members of the audience. One questioned council candidate Robert Luzius about whether he supports Mechanics’ “no-growth agenda.”

Luzius responded that the Proposition 400 measure, for which he has voiced support, “is not a no-growth” initiative. Rather, he said, “it’s a reasonable growth initiative,” adding, “I don’t see any problem with having reasonable growth.”

Audience member Jack Wilson, one of the advocates of the Reasonable Growth Initiative, then asked Mechanic to respond to the characterization that he has a “no-growth agenda.”

“I’d be stupid to say I’m for no-growth,” Mechanic said. “This community is going to grow.” He maintained that he received the “no-growth” label by questioning the current rate of growth. But, Mechanic said, “there is something in-between no-growth and the current over-heated growth.”

The discussion about Proposition 400, the Reasonable Growth initiative that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, generated comment by other candidates as well. Incumbent Councilman John Steward said that although he does not support the initiative, “I’m glad Proposition 400 is on the ballot, because I think it will wake up a lot of people.” He added: “I personally feel we control growth already to a certain extent with our water allocations.”

Incumbent Councilman Bob Roecker agreed, pointing out that the council is working on a Water Management Policy that would limit annual allocations of water to 200-acre-feet, which he said “is not uncontrolled growth.”

Along with the growth issues, the candidates also fielded questions about affordable housing and bicycle lanes.

Councilman Jim Lamerson, a proponent of encouraging more workforce housing by decreasing city regulations, questioned the candidates about their plans for promoting affordable housing.

Mayoral candidate Lindsay Bell noted that she is “in tandem with Mr. Lamerson” about the need to reduce “some of the burdensome” city regulations to encourage more affordable housing. She noted that – with an average annual income in the low-to-mid-$40,000s – Prescott residents can afford homes in the $125,000 to $135,000 range.

“We will not get a lot of those here unless we embrace density,” Bell said, referring to the need to allow more homes per acre as a method to bring down the cost of housing.

Incumbent Councilman Bob Bell voiced support for waiving building permit fees and impact fees to help bring down the cost homes.

The candidates also faced a number of questions about bicycle lanes – particularly about the recent council moves to veto bike lanes on Copper Basin Lane and Sixth Street projects.

Incumbent Mayor Rowle Simmons maintained that bicycle lanes are not practical on every city street project. “Some people want bicycle lanes everywhere, but it doesn’t always work,” he said. “You will not hear me stand up here and say I would give carte blanche on bicycle lanes.”

The forum also included some questions among the candidates themselves. For instance, former City Councilman Robert Behnke challenged Luzius to produce hydrology reports that would back up some of his claims about water.

“I’m concerned that people are making statements that may or may not be true,” Behnke said.

Joan Fleming moderated the forum, and Jan Hilton, Republican precinct committeewoman for Las Fuentes, organized the event.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com