Column: Future housing in the Prescott Regional Airport area

As a mayoral candidate and since becoming elected last November, one of my driving issues is economic development in Prescott. A diverse workforce is the key to a vibrant and thriving community. Closely aligned with a diverse workforce is the need for adequate, affordable housing. If we are to promote jobs for young people in the area, then we must also have available housing suited to growing families.

Recently, the Prescott City Council discussed annexation of Antelope Crossing, a planned residential, workforce housing development slated to be built on a portion of the Deep Well Ranch, west of the airport, between Highway 89 and the new alignment of Willow Creek Road. This project will provide a portion of the workforce housing needed to promote a growing economy and satisfy the need for affordable housing outlined in the General Plan overwhelmingly ratified by Prescott voters in 2015.

During the discussion of the development, the public raised excellent questions as to whether this project would constrain or interfere with future airport expansion I outlined in a previous article. (Projected airport improvements include a new terminal, an extended runway, as well as commercial and light industrial development.) I feel it is necessary to allay any concerns by providing information on the deliberate process the city follows to make decisions on the appropriateness of new developments in proximity to Prescott Airport, and specifically to Antelope Crossing.

First and foremost, it is critical to understand any private property owner has the right to petition Prescott to annex their land into city limits, and to request approval of a plat setting forth the pattern of development. The city is then obligated to make a good faith effort to respond to such requests consistent with applicable statutes, ordinances, and building codes. The fundamental guiding document for city consideration of a proposed development is the General Plan, which is required by statute to be updated every 10 years and submitted to the voters for ultimate approval. It is also essential to note in the absence of annexation by Prescott, a proliferation of homes, each with an unmonitored well and septic system, can and will likely be built on this private property. (One only needs to drive along Williamson Valley Road to see the many examples of these kinds of unregulated subdivisions.)

Secondly, our Public Works and Community Development departments follow a very deliberate process in assessing the need for and making decisions about residential annexations – especially in proximity to the airport. Their conclusions indicate no interference on the part of the Antelope Crossing development with the city’s plans for upgrading and modernizing the airport. In addition, regional transportation planning by the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO) and its member agencies ADOT, Yavapai County and the local municipalities, anticipates the final roadway network design of the realignment of Willow Creek Road and the proposed widening of Highway 89 will accommodate the traffic. Finally, it is also important for the public to realize the James family obtained the required groundwater rights for the Antelope Crossings project from a prior 1967 agreement with the city. Based upon all the above information, the council approved the preliminary plat for Antelope Crossing. But a little history may be necessary in order to understand the decision regarding perceived airport encroachment.

The 1997 Prescott General Plan contained language supporting the development of an airport area master land use plan. As a result, in 1998, the city drafted the Airport Specific Area Plan (ASAP), an extensive land use plan for 38 square miles surrounding the airport and privately owned properties. The focus was to protect the Prescott Airport for future operations and potential expansion, while also anticipating development of surrounding public and private property. Key aspects of the ASAP included designation of aircraft safety zones, and identification of aircraft noise contours used to ensure development and future growth are sited in appropriate locations.

In addition to this criteria from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the city maintained exhaustive dialogue with the private property owners and airport businesses as well as Yavapai County, Chino Valley, and Prescott Valley in order to achieve community approval. Many of the land use and economic development concepts from the ASAP were incorporated unchanged into the draft General Plan. Council adopted the new General Plan and ASAP, and the voters overwhelming approved it in 2003. Later, when the FAA adopted more extensive noise and safety standards for airports and surrounding properties, the ASAP was continually updated and incorporated in subsequent revisions of the Prescott General Plan, including the 2015 update.

Prescott has long recognized the importance of protecting the airport from external influences, including encroachment by residential development. However, this city, like all others statewide, must also recognize the rights of property owners to develop their lands, even within the vicinity of an airport. The FAA safety and noise zones provide the buffer necessary to preserve the operational capacity of the airport, while at the same time permit private property owners the latitude to develop their land outside the restricted zones. In the present case, the city comprehensively reviewed all regulatory requirements. It confirmed the Antelope Crossing project is both located outside of the aircraft impact (safety) zones that prohibit residential development, and beyond the contour where a person standing outside their home would hear noise at 65 decibels or more on average. Given these parameters, there would be no reason to deny preliminary plat approval.

The Airport Specific Area Plan and General Plan seek to reach a balance between operation of a viable Prescott airport, and the rights and interests of surrounding private property owners. By using these voter-approved plans as a guide, the city maintains a deliberate planning and thorough review process of all proposed developments surrounding the airport for the benefit of the entire community.