Residents push for ‘human scale’ in Deep Well Ranch project

P&Z Commission debates building height

Traffic enters the roundabout on Highway 89 where the future Deep Well Ranch subdivision will be centered.  (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

Traffic enters the roundabout on Highway 89 where the future Deep Well Ranch subdivision will be centered. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

Buildings as high as 14 stories, and homes as dense as 65 units per acre continue to raise concerns among local residents and planning commissioners.

The Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission conducted its second review this week of the lengthy master plan for the 1,800-acre Deep Well Ranch project planned on ranchland between Prescott and Chino Valley.

Central to the Thursday, Aug. 17, discussion was the 150-foot height limit that Deep Well developers are seeking for some of its land-use designations. After hearing from design consultants on the matter, Commission Chairman Tom Menser cautioned, “As we go on, height is going to be an issue, so I don’t think we’re done with it yet.”

Members of the audience also worried about the project’s scale, and whether it would mesh with Prescott’s character.

“Prescott’s a little bit lucky because of its sense of place,” retired architect and local resident Bill Gauslow told the commissioners, pointing especially to the “human scale” in the downtown area. He urged the commission to keep the emotional aspects in mind.

Menser pointed out that the Deep Well master plan includes numerous references to human-scale elements, such as open space, biking and walking.

And consultant Trevor Barger of Espiritu Loci said Prescott’s historic downtown was created with an urban feel. “It’s here already,” he said, referring to Prescott’s “wonderful downtown with the density and the traffic.”

After the meeting, Barger estimated that the entire Deep Well project might have just one or two buildings in the 150-foot range. (Building height of 150 feet equates to about 14 stories). That height would be appropriate for a hotel, an office building, or a luxury apartment building, he said.

Existing Prescott heights

Still, the 150-foot height would be more than twice as high as the tallest buildings already existing in Prescott.

Planning Manager George Worley said Prescott’s current height limit for commercial areas is 50 feet, with the ability to seek up to 100 feet with a special use permit. Currently, Worley said, “a handful of” buildings exist in Prescott in the 50-feet or above range. Among them: the city’s downtown parking garage (about 53 feet); the historic Cortez Street Knights of Pythias building that houses the ‘Tis Gallery (46 feet), the Yavapai County Courthouse (74 feet), and the Touchmark project’s main building, which received a special use permit for 70 feet.

Commissioner Ken Mabarak noted that requests for height above the city’s 50-foot limit have generated considerable controversy in Prescott in the past. Describing the 150-foot limit as “very massive and quite urban,” he contended that the Deep Well master plan was asking for a broad variance for the entire development.

Barger said after the meeting that developers would “have to let the public process play out” before deciding whether to proceed with the 150-feet limit.

Houses per acre

Questions also arose about the proposed density of the Deep Well homes, which Barger said would run as high as 30 to 65 per acre.

Several residents from the nearby Pinon Oaks subdivision voiced opposition to the Prescott area growing to resemble Southern California communities such as Anaheim.

In all, developers say the Deep Well project would accommodate about 10,000 homes. Barger said the development would be interspersed with open spaces and greenbelts, which would serve, in some areas, as a common backyard for homes. Among the advantages of such development would be more affordable housing, said Barger. After the meeting, he said, “I would like to find a way to bring back $150,000 homes.”

To do that, he said the homes likely would be multi-family structures “or very creative single-family, or duplexes.”

Flexibility in regulation

Commissioners also returned to the main issue from last week’s meeting, when the project’s regulatory framework was reviewed.

Developers have proposed the creation of “general development standards” that would take the place of the city’s Land Development Code. Last week’s discussion generated debate about whether the city should agree to a system that would bring a second set of regulations, different from the rest of the community.

This week, local resident Leslie Hoy emphasized the complications such a system could create.

“We can’t predict what’s going to happen 40 years from now,” Hoy said, referring to the developers’ estimate of a four-to-five-decade buildout. “I urge you not to lock us in.”

Hoy predicted that giving the developers so much flexibility would lead to disagreements in the future. “You can bet that something may seem casual today, but a conflict is going to arise, and a lawyer is going to say, ‘You approved this in 2017,’” she said. The third scheduled P&Z review will take place on Aug. 24, focusing on transportation. A fourth meeting is scheduled for Aug. 31, when a possible commission vote could take place.

Ultimately, the commission will make a recommendation to the City Council, which will make the final decisions on the requested rezoning.

The project is planned on a portion of Deep Well Ranch land located at the northwest corner of the Highway 89 and 89A interchange. The plan includes a mixture of single-family, multi-family, business, and light industrial uses.