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Sun, Oct. 13

Talk of the Town: Dells, votes and paying for open space

Looking south at the Points of Rocks pre-development along the Peavine Trail Prescott Thursday, August 9, 2018.  (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Looking south at the Points of Rocks pre-development along the Peavine Trail Prescott Thursday, August 9, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

There have been a number of public meetings recently with the four candidates running for City Council — the primary election is Aug. 27. Their differing responses to the question about saving the Dells were revealing.

No incumbent gave full support for preserving 500 acres of open space, as part of the annexation request by Arizona Eco Development (AED). Let’s examine the pros and cons.

Forgetting for a minute about private property rights, there’s little doubt that preserving the center of the Dells (Point of Rocks) is the way to go. Here’s why. This choice would follow the city’s “Open Space Plan.” It benefits the city through money spent by tourists (bed and sales taxes) who choose Prescott because of our wonderful recreational opportunities. It would be an important endowment to future generations. It acknowledges the wishes of locals — thousands have signed the petition asking for 500 acres. Developers are required to assign a minimum 25% of land as open space. In this case the requirement would be less than 500 acres — earlier a key person on the council stated the Dells were special and should exceed this minimum.

Let’s address the private property rights of AED and CEO Jason Gisi — they desperately want annexation. Previous Courier articles have made it very clear that AED needs annexation for many reasons, including water and infrastructure, not to mention much larger profits. AED’s other choices make little sense (staying in the county, working with Prescott Valley). So our council can negotiate annexation terms for our benefit; asking for 500 acres of open space isn’t unreasonable. AED owns thousands of acres, and will want more annexations down the road. Give it more leeway then, on land more suitable for housing with denser zoning.

The city rejected AED’s initial proposal as providing too little open space. AED claims its new offer is much better, but careful analysis shows otherwise. AED has rearranged the development plan but still wants a resort close to Point of Rocks with roads across the Iron King Trail and houses on the riparian/wildlife corridor of No-Name Creek. Over half of its open space is private; another 44 acres of public open space has no public access! Some of the public open space is the center of roundabouts and medians. One letter writer said: “AED illustrated its lack of good faith” in its latest proposal. Don’t feel sorry for Gisi and colleagues — they’re millionaires now, soon multimillionaires.

If you think your single vote on council members won’t make much difference, it can — join the gang! Go online to savethedells.org; its July 15 newsletter suggests who to vote for, and more importantly who not to vote for. It’ll tell you how much money developers have given to the incumbents. Only you can decide how to vote.

Write to the council, tell them you vote and want to preserve the Dells. Remind them about a decade ago they chose to ignore citizens’ wishes on a tax initiative to buy more open space, and instead spent most of the tax money on roads – a legal ruling on this initiative said the council’s interpretation was OK, but it certainly wasn’t what citizens intended. This year, the city increased the annual amount given to the rodeo to $30,000, taken from the bed tax that visitors pay when they stay here.

If the council has a guilty conscience about reducing AED’s profit, here’s a solution. Pay AED $30,000 annually for the next decade (from the tourist bed and sales taxes) and buy 24 acres from AED — that’s based on what the city paid to buy part of the Storm Ranch in 2018 ($12,500 per acre).

Nigel has lived in Prescott for over 20 years. He is a pragmatic engineer interested in the outdoors, history, politics, religion and many other things.

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