Cantlon: Closed door negotiations about the Dells are happening now
Prescott continues to move toward annexing the area of the Granite Dells considered for development, and key negotiations are happening out of sight.
Preliminary negotiations are happening now between the developer, Arizona Eco Development (AED), and various people on behalf of the city, including some council members and some staff.
That’s the normal procedure, which for a normal development would be fine, but for something that has generated so much interest, and involves so much to lose, it leaves a crucial step happening behind closed doors.
The normal process would be for city staff, including Planning and Zoning and others, to discuss with a potential developer various give and take about what the city will provide and what the developer will. Then that tentative deal is presented to council and it’s voted on, yes or no.
However, with so many people interested in what happens to the part of the Dells under consideration, and its potential for a big impact on the city, what might well be the only negotiating stage is happening now, in informal talks, with just a few people, and the public having no idea what is discussed.
Will the city even make an attempt to preserve as much of the Dells as possible and offer other incentives to AED in exchange? Like perhaps permission for higher density on other land AED owns and will no doubt want to see annexed in the future? Or is any such attempt at saving more of the Dells skipped right over and in the discussions it’s assumed the Dells will be developed as AED envisions? And the only negotiation is over things like how much AED will contribute toward road building and such? We don’t know.
If there’s no attempt at any such deal and the negotiators settle on a proposed plan that includes the Dells developed as AED envisions, and that’s brought to the council, and council approves, that’s it. There are some other steps and a little time for comment, I’m simplifying the process, but only a little because the point holds. If certain questions aren’t even asked now, and if council is inclined to accept what is proposed, that’s it.
I talked further with Councilman Jim Lamerson, and despite his having kind of made himself the public face of council on this by commenting on it several times in this paper, he is not one of the lead people in these negotiations. We did find a point of agreement though, and it is that whatever is proposed, it not simply get a council vote and that’s it. It should go to a vote of the people.
I realize somehow or other the practicalities of the city and a developer sorting out details has to happen, and not every tiny step can be paused for a period of comment and a sense of the council, but this is not an ordinary development decision. And why not allow some representatives of the public, of other interested parties, to at least sit in and listen, and keep the public up to date on what’s being discussed? That would make discussions more difficult and messier, but maybe that’s a price that is worth paying when it’s about such an important decision.
Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.