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Granite Dells, traffic congestion hot topics at Prescott City Council candidate forum

Prescott City Council candidate Steve Sischka, left, responds to a question from audience member Dwight Peter, standing far right, during a Monday, June 24, candidate forum at the Prescott American Legion Post 6, while other candidates, from left, Billie Orr, Jim Lamerson, and Cathey Rusing, and moderator Harry Oberg look on. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Prescott City Council candidate Steve Sischka, left, responds to a question from audience member Dwight Peter, standing far right, during a Monday, June 24, candidate forum at the Prescott American Legion Post 6, while other candidates, from left, Billie Orr, Jim Lamerson, and Cathey Rusing, and moderator Harry Oberg look on. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

From clogged downtown streets to preservation of the Granite Dells, local residents were in search of specific answers from the Prescott City Council candidates this week.

The four candidates running for three seats on the City Council met for a candidate forum Monday night, June 24, at Prescott’s American Legion Post 6.

About 75 people turned out for the event, and for more than an hour the candidates responded to numerous questions from audience members.

Local resident Dwight Peters led off with a question about worsening traffic conditions.

“What are you going to do about the streets downtown?” Peters asked the candidates. “You’ve got two large apartment complexes going up on Willow Creek and Miller Valley, and the congestion is going to get terrible down there. Do any of you have a plan [to alleviate that]?”

Steve Sischka, an incumbent councilman seeking a second four-year term, said the apartments were being built in response to the community’s need for more affordable housing.

“Right now, we have 1,000 units going forward,” he said.

Although the city will work to better regulate traffic flow by making stoplights more efficient, Sischka said, “Are we going to build new streets? I doubt it.”

Incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr, who also is seeking a second four-year term on the council, pointed out that a number of steps are underway to improve traffic flow in other areas.

For instance, she pointed to the pending widening of Highway 69 between Frontier Village and the Prescott Gateway Mall, as well as a new traffic signal that the city is installing at Willow Lake Road and Prescott Lakes Parkway.

Incumbent Councilman Jim Lamerson, who is running for his fifth four-year term, stressed that much of the traffic on Prescott’s streets is coming from outside the city. He said the city is taking steps to better regulate the flow of traffic.

Cathey Rusing, who is running for her first term on the council, noted that traffic congestion was among the top issues that people brought up while she was circulating petitions for her candidacy.

“Traffic was right up there with growth and water,” she said.

Along with identifying and dealing with existing traffic bottlenecks, Rusing suggested that the city should be building more sidewalks and trails. “I support more walkability and bike-ability,” she said.

GRANITE DELLS

The candidates’ views on the pending development in the Granite Dells also were a top question this week.

An audience member pressed the candidates on whether they would accept developer Arizona Eco Development’s existing proposal to preserve about 250 acres of Dells land, or whether they would hold out for the 500-acre park that the “Save the Dells” group is advocating.

Orr said a public park encompassing the Point of Rocks is crucial for her.

“We absolutely have to have the Point of Rocks,” she said, adding that for her, “Quality is more important that quantity.”

Lamerson said that until negotiations between the developer and the council get underway, “I can’t answer that question. I don’t know whether or not it’s in the best interest of the city.”

Lamerson says a coming cost-benefit analysis would help to answer that question, but that likely won’t happen until after the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission’s review, which could take three to four months.

Rusing, who has stated that she supports Save the Dells’ stand, stressed that in exchange for annexing the property into city limits, “The city in return must receive something. That is usually in the form of open space.”

Sischka, calling himself “a bottom-line kind of guy,” told the crowd, “If it’s not good for Prescott, for me it’s not going to happen. Right now, I’m not impressed with what the developer has shown us. But I’m also not willing to say what Save the Dells is saying, which is ‘500 acres or nothing.’ ”

Other audience questions touched on redevelopment of downtown, attracting a qualified workforce, and public transit.

Mayor Greg Mengarelli, who is running unopposed for a second two-year term, was out of town and unable to attend the forum.

The City Council primary is scheduled for Aug. 27, and the general election run-off, if needed, is set for Nov. 5.

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