Deep Well water right cannot be ‘unilaterally changed’

1,800-acre project generates 70 written comments from public

Part of an August PowerPoint presentation on the Deep Well Ranch project. (Courtesy)

Part of an August PowerPoint presentation on the Deep Well Ranch project. (Courtesy)

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Along with questions about homes per acre and water rights for the Deep Well Ranch project, a concern arose this week about tying up so much of the city’s available water on one project.

See Story: Prescott’s diminishing ‘general pool’ of water

Dozens of comments have flooded Prescott City Hall in recent months — many with the same basic message: Vote “no” on the Deep Well project.

But city officials maintained during a Tuesday, Nov. 7, City Council workshop that a rejection of 1,800-acre project planned on ranch land in northeast Prescott would be inadvisable in some cases, and not legally possible in others.

Especially when it comes to the 950 acre-feet of alternative water and 900 acre-feet of Big Chino Water Ranch water that has already been allocated to the project, City Attorney Jon Paladini said, “This is an obligation that the city cannot unilaterally change.”

Longtime commitment

The water right dates back decades — to at least 1967, when the Deep Well Ranch granted an easement to the city to build its 18-inch Chino Valley-to-Prescott water pipeline across Deep Well land.

Prescott Water Resource Manager Leslie Graser pointed out that the agreement at the time granted the ranch the right to connect to the pipeline and to be served water, but did not specify an amount.

The quantification came years later, in 2009, when the City Council approved a pre-annexation agreement with Deep Well, granting the 950 acre-feet of alternative water, which is currently available, and another 900 acre-feet of Big Chino water, which would be available if and when the city builds the pending water pipeline from the Big Chino Water Ranch located northwest of Paulden. (An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons of water).

Although the numbers fluctuate depending on how water-efficient the homes would be, the available alternative water would serve between 3,194 and 3,993 single-family homes, or as many as 6,000 multi-family units. Adding in the Big Chino water, the total would allow for as many as 8,493 single-family homes, or 14,155 multi-family homes.

Too many homes?

The Deep Well master plan has proposed a combination of single-family and multi-family, with a total cap of 10,500.

Many local residents have questioned that number, however, and the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission recommended in October that the City Council negotiate the total down by 50 percent.

As a part of this week’s presentation, the city compiled the number of written comments received on the Deep Well project over the past several months, and reported that a total of about 70 comments had come in during and after the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation in October. About 20 of the comments focused on the project’s proposed density (number of homes per acre), and nearly 40 focused on water.

“A lot of people are writing in and saying we need to vote ‘no’ on this,” Mayor Harry Oberg. Pointing to the breakdown of comments from the public, Oberg told the more than 50 people in attendance on Tuesday, “We are looking at what you’re concerned about.”

But Planning and Zoning Commissioner Joe Gardner, a vocal opponent of the Deep Well master plan, said the total number of homes continues to be a sticking point for him, and for the public. “I don’t think a vast majority of Prescott thinks 10,500 (homes) is appropriate on that property,” he told the council.

Existing vs. master plan

The city’s presentation maintained, however, that the landowners have the right to build significantly more homes under the existing zoning than under the master plan’s 10,500 cap.

Based on the current zoning, the total comes in at 15,925 allowable homes, according to the presentation. But after factoring in practical limitations such as a streets and schools, Paladini said the total allowable homes would be 12,000 to 13,000.

“The primary concern we’re hearing is that there are too many homes,” Paladini said. He added that the question for the council would be: “Is (the master plan) a better plan than what’s already allowed?”

‘Groundbreaking opportunity’

While many of the public’s written comments have been negative, the council heard another side from two former local officials this week.

Former Prescott City Councilman Tom Reilly told the council that the arguments against the project are similar to those he heard before leaving the council in 2001. “It’s déjà vu all over again,” Reilly said, noting that earlier residents had dire predictions about the negative impacts of an earlier major project, Prescott Lakes — a project that he said “added substantially to the fabric of this community.”

Former Yavapai County Supervisor Bill Feldmeier also voiced support for the Deep Well master plan, maintaining that the proposed master plan would allow for a more cohesive development.

“Master planning is the way to go,” Feldmeier said. “The ability to master plan 1,800 acres is a unique, groundbreaking opportunity. I don’t think it’s something we ought to fear; it’s something we ought to embrace.”

Tuesday’s discussion also touched on protection of the airport, and progress on the Planning and Zoning Commission’s 21 conditions for approval.

The council agreed to conduct another workshop at 1 p.m. Nov. 14 to discuss the project’s engineering and traffic plans.

(Editor's note: The workshop date has been corrected on this article post.)

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