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Tue, Jan. 28

Granite Dells Resort purchase fails to make it in city budget

PRESCOTT - When the City of Prescott unveiled its proposed 2013/2014 budget this past week, conspicuously absent was the long-discussed open-space purchase of the Granite Dells Resort property.

With more than $16 million in capital expenditures in the city's streets and open space budget, a total of $500,000 of that was allocated for open space. The budget made no mention of the Granite Dells land.

That comes after Prescott City Manager Craig McConnell sent a letter on May 10 to Mark Wirth, the property's owner, informing him that the city had chosen to "respectfully decline" the offer for sale of the parcel that contains the remains of the historic Granite Dells Resort.

McConnell said Friday that the Prescott City Council had discussed the matter in executive session and had "provided direction" to city staff. The letter to Wirth was sent on the "instruction of the council," McConnell added.

But Jim Lawrence of the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation notes that the council never fully discussed the matter in public, and did not take a public vote.

"Our main difficulty is we don't know where or when the City Council could have done a legitimate vote to reject (Wirth's) offer," Lawrence said this week.

He pointed out that when the foundation made its initial presentation to the council in February, council members engaged in little or no public discussion on the matter.

Indeed, only Mayor Marlin Kuykendall spoke after the Feb. 5 presentation - to tell the foundation members that McConnell would be the city's point person in the ongoing discussion.

"All of the negotiations were confidential," Lawrence said. "That was a little bit of the difficulty."

At least twice in the past several months, the City Council conducted special executive-session meetings to discuss "consideration of acquisition of property in north Prescott."

Last week, Kuykendall indicated that he could not comment on the matter because the prior discussions had taken place in executive sessions, which are confidential, per the Arizona Open Meeting Law.

But the law also prohibits public bodies from voting in executive-session meetings.

McConnell maintained, however, that the council has the right to give direction.

"It doesn't require a council vote," he said of the decision not to pursue the land purchase.

Earlier this year, the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation had pushed the city to take advantage of a number of favorable factors to acquire the 83-acre Dells parcel that proponents say would be the keystone open-space property in scenic Granite Dells area northeast of the city.

Factors such as low interest rates and the private owner's interest in selling the resort land for preservation made for an opportune time for the move, according to the foundation.

The organization suggested that the city pay for the purchase with revenue from the streets/open space sales tax initiative that voters approved in 2000.

While the city indicated at that time that it would spend as much as $40.7 million on open space acquisitions over the coming 15 years, it has so far spent about $16 million. The sales tax expires in 2015.

Over the years, the city has opted to devote the bulk of the 1-percent sales tax revenue to street improvements.

This week, Wirth said that while he viewed preservation of the Granite Dells Resort parcel as advantageous for the community, he never actively promoted the sale.

"It's something that if it happens, it happens," Wirth said. "I didn't promote it one way or the other."

After receiving the rejection letter from the city, Wirth said he is again considering using the land for residential purposes.

"I'm planning to develop it," he said, adding that the development would be similar to the residential area across Highway 89. "It's zoned for one-acre lots."

Foundation members apparently are not ready to halt their preservation efforts, however.

Lawrence said the organization has gathered about 540 signatures in support of the purchase, and he said the group has been trying to get on the City Council agenda to speak.

On Friday, McConnell said a presentation on the matter is scheduled to be on the council's June 4 agenda.

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