Originally Published: September 15, 2017 6:04 a.m.
Homes could spring up soon near the Granite Dells’ iconic Point of Rocks, as well as along portions of the popular Peavine Trail — all as a part of the proposed Arizona Eco Development project.
The project, which includes land north and south of the Granite Dells Parkway interchange on Highway 89A, began its public review process this week.
Jason Gisi, CEO of Arizona Eco Development, appeared before the Prescott City Council on Sept. 12 to introduce plans for a 3,850-home development that would include annexation of two parcels of land, totaling more than 3,000 acres, as well as a parcel that is already within city limits.
Gisi emphasized that a lengthy process would precede any future city decisions on the matter.
“The goal of today’s meeting is to introduce this project to the council and the public,” Gisi said, adding that the meeting was “the first of many public hearings I’ll be required to host.”
Next up will be Gisi’s formal application to ask the city to take in two parcels of land — the north section, consisting of 2,190 acres near the Prescott Airport; and the Homestead annexation, consisting of 864 acres near the Point of Rocks (the mass of granite formations that borders the old Peavine railroad route, which is now a multi-use recreational trail).
Gisi’s map shows multiple phases of housing tracts on the west side of the Peavine Trail, an area that he said is relatively flat and devoid of rock formations. The annexation map indicates that the area, which is northwest of the Point Rocks, would include housing phases A through J.
The map also shows a number of phases near the intersection of the Peavine and the Iron King trails, which is just north of the Point of Rocks.
After the meeting, Gisi said the bulk of the Point of Rocks would be preserved under the development plans. “On the major formations, there are zero plans to touch them,” he said, noting that the project would designate the area as open space, which would be preserved in perpetuity.
Still, Councilwoman Jean Wilcox had a number of questions about the plans for development along the trail.
“When people use those trails, they’re going to be going through a suburb,” Wilcox said, questioning the recreational value of “seeing a lot of walls and houses,” as they walk or ride along the trail.
“I think it will damage the economy,” she said, referring to the local tourist draw of the scenic trail.
Wilcox suggested that developers position their homes as far as possible from the Point of Rocks. “It would be much more desirable to have less dense (development) at the intersection of the Peavine and the Iron King,” she said.
But Mayor Pro Tem Jim Lamerson stressed the private-property rights of the landowners. “How presumptuous of you to have ideas on how to use your land,” he told Gisi.
Developers currently plan to dedicate 25 percent of total acreage to open space (complying with a city requirement), Gisi said, adding that the percentage is likely to increase as the planning moves forward. “The open space number is going to grow, not shrink,” he said.
Wilcox urged Gisi to consider providing connections between planned open space tracts and trails, and allowing access to the general public.
Gisi responded: “It’s been demonstrated that open space is an asset, and our goal will be to create connectivity.”
The Point of Rocks is north of the scenic stretch of the Peavine that runs along the eastern side of Watson Lake. That section is owned largely by the city and is preserved, although development is expected on the previous Storm Ranch land, which is east of the trail and south of the Point of Rocks.
In 2016, about 82,000 people visited the Peavine Trail, said city Trails and Natural Parklands Coordinator Chris Hosking. (The number excludes traffic on the Iron King Trail, which is owned by Prescott Valley).
Homes already exist along the east side of the northern Peavine in The Dells project, which is located northeast of the Arizona Eco’s southern Homestead tract.
While the bulk of the water for the Arizona Eco project is expected to come from surface-water rights that the company already holds, Gisi said developers are proposing a swap of land-for-water with the city to cover about 20 percent of the need.
He told the council that the developers have about 375 acre-feet of surface-water rights through long-term rights that the previous owners, Granite Dells Ranch, had from the nearby Watson Lake, which is fed by Granite Creek.
The water rights date back to the 1890s, Gisi said. Over the past two years or so, he said Arizona Eco has been dealing with the Salt River Project (SRP), which has rights to much of the surface water in the area. “SRP basically said, ‘We don’t oppose your water right,’” Gisi said of the culmination of those dealings. “Suffice it to say, we’ve proven our water rights in the eyes of SRP.”
Now, he said, developers will deal with the Arizona Department of Water Resources to “sever and transfer” the water rights. Ultimately, he said the water rights are expected to become part of the City of Prescott’s water portfolio, and would be used to serve the pending Arizona Eco development.
The other needed water, which Gisi estimated would serve about 600 to 800 of Arizona Eco’s homes, is being proposed through a trade of 652 acres of land located at the northern end of the Prescott Airport’s runway.
The tract is a part of Arizona Eco’s northern annexation tract, and the remaining 1,538 acres of the total 2,190 acres there would accommodate about 1,550 homes, according to Gisi’s map.
Gisi said the values of the land and the needed water are still be to be determined.
Indeed, officials say many of the details about the project are still to come as Arizona Eco applies for annexation and proceeds through the process.
Because the project consists of more than 250 acres, it must comply with the voter-approved Proposition 400 requirements, which call for a longer public review process and an economic impact study.
Gisi estimated that a City Council vote on the annexation could be nine to 12 months away. He added that “if everything goes seamless,” development could be underway by 2019.
While the two annexation parcels are planned to be dedicated mostly to residential development, Gisi said another parcel, which is located along Highway 89A near Centerpointe, would have acreage available for commercial development.
Gisi said he expects to submit the formal annexation application including the legal descriptions, soon.
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