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Sun, Dec. 08

Cantlon: The Dells ... it’s not about property rights, it’s about negotiation

In a Talk of the Town a little while back, Councilman Jim Lamerson made the case that the developer who wants to put houses and condos in the middle of the Granite Dells should be able to do what they want, and any suggestions of special limitations are out of line, because of private property rights.

Jim is sincere in his beliefs, I know from discussions with him, but in this case he is sincerely off-target. Violation of property rights is not at all what is being asked.

Jim having this wrong is crucial because he is one of a handful of people who will make decisions about this, decisions he should be making as a negotiator trying to get the best deal for the people of Prescott and the surrounding areas. Starting from the wrong understanding would lead to giving away things that shouldn’t be given away, things that it is the council’s duty to get the most out of for the people they are representing.

What’s being asked is a trade. The developer gives something in exchange for the city giving something. And boy does the city have a lot to offer. Annexation would make the developer so much more profit it’s hard to imagine. Something the city ought to get a lot in exchange for.

Ironically, Jim starts his piece by noting how wonderful the forested nature outside his door is. A lot of people don’t have that. They have to go someplace like the Dells and the Peavine Trail that runs through it, a trail significant enough to be part of the National Trails System, a system “to promote the preservation of, public access to, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation.”

There are no pure property rights. You can’t build a bright, garish, busy hamburger joint with loud music in the middle of a residential street because we have simply decided that is too much of a detriment to surrounding property and to quality of life. How development in the Dells affects the city should simply get the same consideration. He’s feels that the city has been developed in good ways so far, but that only continues if the current stewards uphold their responsibility to get the best out of current negotiations.

He notes that council works with property owners in the city, but the Dells development is not in the city, yet. They’re asking to be. And well they should, because of that enormous added value. The city would only be doing its job to get all it can for granting that privilege. What the Save the Dells group proposes is a negotiated trade. The developer owns a lot of open space just north of the Dells as well. The city could offer to annex that area too, and even grant an exemption for more houses than what the law allows. In exchange the developer would not develop in the Dells. Everyone gets something.

The alternative is the development remains in the county, where density laws are no more than one residence per 2 acres. That’s painted as a scare story, “Oh no! An unplanned development!” but actually it would be fine. It would mean no dense condos in the Dells. There are negatives, but if you weigh the negatives against loss of the Dells as they are?

It’s a negotiation, and the responsible thing to do is to get the best that can be for the party being represented, the people of the Prescott area.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at

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