Deep Well debate: P&Z commissioners want fewer houses, developers more

Crews work on the infrastructure where the future Deep Well Ranch subdivision is planned to be centered. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Crews work on the infrastructure where the future Deep Well Ranch subdivision is planned to be centered. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Deep Well Ranch’s vision for a more “compact” development clashed this week with Planning and Zoning Commissioners’ perceptions of appropriate Prescott housing densities.

Several commissioners continued their objections on Thursday, Sept. 28, to the Deep Well Ranch’s plans to build as many as 10,500 homes on 1,800 acres of ranch land in northeast Prescott.

Ultimately, the commission pushed off a decision on its recommendation to the Prescott City Council for another two weeks, opting to vote at its Oct. 12 meeting.

If the vote does occur at that meeting, which would be the commission’s seventh discussion of the Deep Well project, the final City Council consideration could occur by late October or mid-November, officials say.

Is 10,500 homes too many?

Although a number of issues continued to worry commissioners this week, much of the debate focused on the Deep Well project’s plans for as many as 10,500 homes.

“We’ve had at least four of the commissioners … who have stated that the project is too intense and too large a scale in keeping with the norm of Prescott,” Commission Chairman Tom Menser said.

He asked design consultant Trevor Barger if developers would be willing to reduce the dwelling units, as well as the amount of commercial square footage, in response to the continued commission concerns.

Barger responded: “Not beyond what we’re currently reducing in those settings.”

He stressed that the 10,500 cap is already less than what the developers could build on the land under the existing zoning. “Our total number if we did the highest density possible would be well above that,” Barger said, noting that the developers were “self-restricting.”

City officials say that under the land’s existing zoning, a maximum of 13,500 homes could be built on the land (although the number is variable, depending on the amount of commercial development and the single-family/multi-family breakdown).

Commissioners maintain, however, that even the 10,500 cap is unrealistic.

“I find it almost ridiculous that 10,000 (homes) could be shoved in there,” Commissioner George Sheats said.

In a “theoretical vs. realistic” comparison, Sheats pointed to the density of another large Prescott development, Prescott Lakes. “I live in Prescott Lakes, and we’re going to have 2,200 units build out at 1,100 acres …” he said.

Barger has emphasized that the Deep Well project aims to emulate densities similar to Prescott’s downtown, which, he said, “is actually very dense.”

To promote walkability and livability, and “for not consuming four times the amount of land for the same population,” Barger said, the Deep Well developers had posed the question: “Can we do it in a more compact way and still preserve the Prescott character? We believe that we can.”

Consistency with Prescott

Several of the commissioners disagreed, maintaining that the density proposed by Deep Well would be more similar to Prescott Valley or Chino Valley projects than to Prescott’s traditional development profile.

“I’m looking at it in terms of how the city has developed up to this point,” Commissioner Bill Sim said. “We don’t want to become another Chino Valley, or Prescott Valley in particular.”

He added: “We have a special character to this town. Development to date, I think, has generally recognized that. This is kind of a real leap forward – it’s a lot more urban in nature than what we’re used to.”

Sheats and other commissioners suggested that Deep Well’s build-out cap would be more realistic at about 3,200 homes – approximately the number of homes for which the project currently has water allocations.

Barger has stressed that the project would build out slowly – likely at about 200 to 300 homes per year – and could take four to five decades to build out.

City officials earlier pointed out that Deep Well has the right to about 950 acre-feet of water under an earlier water settlement agreement. In addition, the project’s right to water from the pending Big Chino Water Ranch would approximately double that number. (The Big Chino Water Ranch is currently halted because of a multi-year study to determine impacts to the Verde River).

To get to the 10,500 cap, Barger said developers would have to find other water sources. After the meeting, he said no further water-right acquisitions are currently in the works.

Deep Well’s first 3,200 homes, for which the project currently has water, likely would take about 10 to 15 years to achieve, Barger said.

Of the proposed numbers and densities, Barger said, “I don’t think it actually is an extreme number because it is over a long period of time.”

The 1,800 acres is located at the northwest corner of the Highway 89 and 89A interchange. The commission will vote on a related rezoning, a master plan, and a text amendment to the Airport Specific Area Plan.

Throughout the past two months, the Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended a number of changes to the project’s master plan. The edited master plan is available online at: http://www.espirituloci.com/deep-well-ranch-master-plan.html.