Originally Published: August 26, 2017 6:03 a.m.
The possibility that as many as 600 apartment units could be built on land just outside of the Prescott Airport runway’s direct path raised concerns this week over the Deep Well Ranch project master plan.
The Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission conducted its third public review Thursday, Aug. 24, of the 1,800-acre mixed-use project planned at the northwest corner of the Highway 89 and 89A intersection in northeast Prescott.
Central to the discussion was transportation, and topping the list of concerns was the Prescott Municipal Airport.
As developers plan it, as many as 600 of the project’s 10,000 or so housing units could be built as apartments on property across Highway 89 from the airport, near Pioneer Parkway.
A number of airport advocates and area residents voiced worries about having homes so close to the airport’s flight path.
Airport Assistant Manager Jessie Baker pointed out that “additional risk” exists in the area, which is designated as “Zone 3” in the Airport Impact Zone designations. (The zones are rated from 1 to 6, with Zone 1 having the highest impact).
“There are higher risk factors” in Zone 3 from take-offs and landings, Baker said, and therefore, “Putting residential or schools there is higher risk.”
Tom Juliani, chairman of the city’s Airport Advisory Committee, emphasized the importance of protecting the airport from encroaching development.
Noting that Prescott has no other major mode of transportation, such as an interstate highway or railroad, Juliani said, “The airport is it. We have to prepare, to protect this really, really valuable asset.”
And he and Baker pointed out that the Prescott Airport already receives noise complaints from nearby residents.
“The largest source of noise complaints is Pinon Oaks, but we turn most aircraft before they even reach Pinon Oaks,” said Juliani. “So, imagine if we had massive population right there across the highway.”
Home buyers in Pinon Oaks — which is within the Zone-6 impact area — are required to sign an “avigation easement” to acknowledge the location in the airport area. But, Baker said, success with the easements has been limited, because complaints still are filed even if homeowners have signed the documents.
Trevor Barger, a design consultant for the developer, pointed out that intense uses are already permitted in the area, and the developer is seeking multi-family mixed-use at the Highway 89/89A/Pioneer Parkway intersection.
He added that planners had already moved about 6,000 dwelling units toward the northeast, with the intention of removing much of the conflict.
“We are also looking at this compared to the existing conditions and approvals that are already in place,” Barger told the commission, adding, “This is the area where that kind of core could be possible.”
The developer’s plans for the airport area were formulated after extensive review of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) guidelines, Barger said, as well as the city’s Airport Specific Area Plan. Developers also made a recent presentation to the city’s Airport Advisory Committee.
Several area residents questioned the plans, however, noting that locating apartments in the area would increase the number of people who could be affected by a plane crash.
“You’re actually making it possible for more people to die in a plane crash than by putting in (single-family) residential, which would be less dense,” area resident William Gauslow said. “I know plane crashes don’t happen that often, but you’re intentionally dumping on renters.”
Reduced building heights
The concerns came up despite the developers’ 50-to-100-foot reduction in building-height limits for the proposed project.
Barger led off his presentation to the commission this week by noting that developers had decided over the past week that the project would adhere to the city’s existing 50-foot height limit for commercial areas, with the possibility of 100 feet with a special use permit.
That was a significant drop from the 150-foot height limit that Deep Well developers had initially sought for some of their land-use categories.
Several commissioners had voiced concerns about the 150-foot limit during their Aug. 17 meeting, and had suggested that the height (equating to about 14 floors) would be a continuing issue over the project’s proposed master plan.
“We heard you loud and clear,” Barger said of those earlier comments, adding that it had taken “a week to digest and get all of the approvals and come back (with the change).”
Recommendation decision postponed
Commission Chairman Tom Menser pushed for more information from airport officials before the commission could move forward with its recommendation to the City Council.
“We would love to see a comprehensive report from the airport — even if we have to postpone any final action on the (Deep Well) master plan,” Menser said.
He and other commissioners made it clear at the end of this week’s meeting that they would not be voting on the requested Deep Well rezoning at next week’s meeting, Aug. 31, as originally projected.
After the meeting, Menser said a vote by the commission likely would not take place until at least Sept. 14, and possibly later, depending on the commissioners’ questions.
The Aug. 31 commission meeting is still scheduled to take place, for continued discussion on other aspects of the project. Developers are seeking to rezone the property to Specially Planned Community (SPCS) District, which they say would allow for more flexibility, and a more cohesive project.
“Typically, most cities see things five, 10, 20 acres at a time,” Barger told the commission. “The benefit of coming forward with a master plan, as painful as it is, it gives the city a long look.”
Developers say build out of the project could take as long as four or five decades.
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