Originally Published: November 22, 2017 6 a.m.
Despite an effort by Mayor Harry Oberg to allow more time for review of the Deep Well Ranch project, it appears that a majority of Prescott City Council members want to proceed with a possible vote on Nov. 28.
The council discussed the 1,800-acre northeast-Prescott project for the fifth time Tuesday, Nov. 21. Oberg began the study session by announcing that he believed it would not be possible for the council to complete the necessary due diligence on the Deep Well Ranch project by the Nov. 28 voting meeting.
That date is significant because the newly elected council members are scheduled to be sworn into office at the end of the meeting.
For the past several weeks, Oberg has maintained that current council members have an obligation to continue discussing the Deep Well plan, with an intention to vote on Nov. 28, before leaving office.
But this week, Oberg pointed out that the council had received about 300 pages of new and revised information on the Deep Well master plan and development agreement in the past several days.
In addition, he noted that the council had run out of time for public comment at last week’s study session on traffic and engineering. He said pushing off the vote would give the public and the council more time to consider the project.
“I thought at the time it would be good for us to try to continue the discussions and try to work through the issues, and I think we’ve made good progress on that,” Oberg said of the past discussions.
But now, with the new information, coupled with the Thanksgiving holiday, the mayor said, “I think we are probably dealing with a bridge too far.”
Noting that he doubted any of the council members had been able to read all of the documents, Oberg added, “We want to make sure we do it right. Another month or two is not going to kill us.”
But other council members pushed for proceeding with the vote as soon as possible.
Councilwoman Billie Orr, for instance, said it was important for the council to continue on toward its original goal.
“I want to assure you I have read all of the documents (except for the revisions that the council received Tuesday),” Orr said. “And I assure you I will read all of these before the 28th.”
Added Orr: “I just think it’s important that we press on with what our goal was, which was to have this on the agenda for the 28th.”
The council also heard from attorney Robert Pecharich, representing the James Foundation, which owns the Deep Well land.
“Delay costs money,” Pecharich told the council, adding that the Foundation provides funding for numerous nonprofit organizations in the community. Therefore, he said, a delay would not only hurt the landowner, but those community organizations as well. “In terms of cost, it’s much better if this council can make a decision,” he said.
Although the meeting ended with some uncertainty on whether the matter would appear on next week’s council agenda, Oberg said after the meeting that it appeared that four council members (Orr, Steve Sischka, Steve Blair, and Greg Lazzell) wanted to have the matter on the Nov. 28 agenda for a possible vote.
Development agreement review
Meanwhile this week, the council also conducted its first public discussion of the draft development agreement between the city and developers, which was released to the public this past week.
The council conducted a closed-door executive session on the agreement on Monday, Nov. 20, and a number of changes were suggested from that meeting.
City Attorney Jon Paladini outlined the agreement, as well as the proposed changes, during a presentation to the council.
Among the suggested changes is a rewording in the “maximum number of dwelling units” section.
The original draft agreement noted that the Deep Well master plan calls for a cap of 10,500 homes, but that “no more than 8,000 dwelling units may be constructed on the property until such time as the city or an owner acquires an alternative water source, such as water from the Big Chino pipeline project.”
The suggested change that Paladini presented this week replaces that wording with: “Owners acknowledge that (the existing pre-annexation agreement and water laws) may limit or restrict the city’s ability to serve and the owners’ ability to use water for certain uses on the property.”
Paladini and other city officials explained that the Deep Well property already holds water rights that would allow for a total of about 8,500 homes (including the 4,000 homes allowed through the available alternative water allocation, and another 4,500 or so from possible future Big Chino water pipeline water).
Any dwelling units beyond the 8,500 or so would require that the developers acquire another source of water, officials said. They maintained that the available water would dictate the number of homes in the Deep Well project rather than the master plan.
Sischka emphasized that landowners already have the right to develop their property, with the existing water rights. “This is not a family-planning process,” Sischka said. “We have the baby; we can’t put it back in the oven. Now, it’s up to us on how we raise it.”
Paladini added the choice for the council and community is not one of “a master plan or nothing.” Rather, he described the choice as: a master-planned community or development under the existing zoning. “This land is not going to sit fallow,” he said.
Several audience members disputed that, however, and urged the council to consider the impacts on current residents.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone who is for this project,” local resident Sharon Egan said, adding that the council should consider quality-of-life and historic-ambience issues. “It’s puzzling to me why you’re proceeding.”
Blair responded: “Legally, we don’t have a choice, and that is what our lawyer told us.”
Deep Well information, including the development agreement and the revised master plan, is available on the city’s website at: http://www.prescott-az.gov/services/planning/.