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Fri, Nov. 15

Public voices concern about height, access of Touchmark at the Ranch Development

PRESCOTT, Arizona -  Developers repeatedly referred to a parcel they are eyeing for a senior housing complex as a "tough" building site. Residents in the nearby Yavapai Hills, however, say that should not entitle the proposal to special treatment from the city.

The debate played out during Thursday morning's Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission review of the Touchmark at the Ranch project, a 379-unit senior housing complex slated for a high-profile parcel near the intersection of Highway 69 and Lee Boulevard.

Central to the proposal: a request by developers to exceed the city's 50-foot height limit by 30 feet, and a proposed single entrance into the 44-acre complex.

Representatives of the Oregon-based Touchmark company led off the discussion by noting the challenges they are dealing with on the hilly piece of land.

"It is a tough site; there's a lot of topo (topographical features)," Joseph Billig, Touchmark's senior vice president for architecture and interior design, told the commission during his introduction of the project. Senior Vice President of Development and Construction Richard Wessell also mentioned the topographical constraints.

Several Yavapai Hills residents took issue with the repeated references to the difficulties.

"They keep saying it's a tough location, but you're building in that location," Yavapai Hills resident Ed Villarreal. "If you've got the gumption to put in something that huge... you should have the gumption to come up with a plan to put in an access road."

Maintaining that the developers were "asking for two breaks" from the city - the building height and the single access point - Villarreal added: "They are trying to jam as much as they possibly can into this development. A corporation this size should be sensitive to the surrounding neighborhoods."

Fellow Yavapai Hills resident Don Balzarini contended that the city had earlier allowed development in the area to "plow down mountains and fill in canyons." He added: "I think it's time for us to crack down and not give any variances whatsoever to height. If they insist on putting this monstrosity up there, they should follow any ordinance we have in the city."

To deal with the steep topography, Billig said developers plan to use only about 70 percent of parcel, leaving about 30 percent as open area.

In all, Touchmark plans 31 adult single-family units, 13 garden-home four-plexes, and 296 independent/assisted living units.

The developers stressed that they had worked for months to come up with the project design. The first meeting with city officials occurred in April 2013.

Touchmark's written proposal to the city stated: "Some of the main site constraints identified early in the planning process related to the single point of access, available sewer connections and traffic impacts."

After the meeting, Wessell said Touchmark had "looked at every option" to try to find a second access, including building a connection to Bar-Circle-A in Yavapai Hills, or to Prescott Lakes Parkway. "We either don't have the land, or with the physical topography, we couldn't do it," he said of those options.

Despite the difficulty with the site, Wessell said, "We like Prescott. We like the location; it's close to services. And we like the views."

Villarreal maintained that Touchmark's buildings would block his own views. "I'm already taking a hit to my property by having this monstrosity built on the ridge," he told the commission.

Other concerns from residents included access for fire trucks and ambulances; traffic impacts at Highway 69/Lee Boulevard; and the number of units included in the project.

City Traffic Engineer Ian Mattingly responded that the proposed congregate-care facility was "one of the lowest creators of traffic that you could put there."

Acting Fire Chief Eric Kriwer added that fire trucks and ambulances would be able to navigate the entrance's 10-percent grade, and that the buildings would be required to have fire sprinkler systems.

On the issue of the number of units, Wessell said, "At the end of the day, it's a matter of economics - what can we do to make this the most vital community."

The commission made no decision on the project this week, and will discuss it again at 9 a.m. March 13.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks

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