COTTONWOOD – No one can argue that democratic participation wasn’t evident Thursday at the Yavapai County annex in Cottonwood.
Yavapai County Planning & Zoning commissioners listened to more than six hours of public testimony and read several hundred emails and letters during their meeting. Ultimately, they unanimously voted to deny the proposal to develop a 172-acre senior-oriented manufactured home park to take the place of the El Rojo Grande Ranch just outside Sedona.
The applicant, Equity LifeStyle Properties, requested the zoning change to allow 688 parcels composed of up to 628 manufacture homes and 60 recreational vehicle sites. The spaces would be available for lease, not individual ownership. ELS is based out of Chicago and also owns Sedona Shadows.
Residents would own the homes but lease the land for around $1,000 a month.
The property is currently in escrow, contingent on whether the rezoning is approved, Yavapai County Senior Planner Tammy DeWitt said.
The vote came just before 5 p.m. It was met with applause from the audience. An estimated 300 people showed up to the meeting. Many of them had been at the meeting chambers since 9 a.m. Crowds overflowed into the lobby with additional overflow upstairs. They wore red and held signs protesting the development. One sign read in all caps: “YOU CANNOT UNPAVE PARADISE.”
Ingrid Hills, owner of the property, was the only one who spoke in favor of the project.
“I love this community,” she said. “I’ve been trying to sell the property for many years. I turned down an offer that was twice the market … in the long run, I felt it could negatively impact the community so I walked away from it.”
Hills said she now wants to sell to ELS because she thinks it would be “a good fit.”
“I am a senior,” she said. “I believe seniors are entitled to have a roof over their head.”
As of Jan. 7, the county had received 719 letters opposing the project, 398 in support.
“I’ve never seen this much opposition,” said Commissioner Curtis Lindner while explaining his no vote. “We need to have support from the public. I’m not seeing that here.”
Rod Jarvis, an attorney for the developer, touted the project for being environmentally friendly and a solution for workforce housing. He said that while the community is 55-plus, many of them would still be in the workforce.
“A third of our residents are not retired,” he said of ELS’ other properties. “We will have a number of people in the workforce.”
This comment was met with incredulous laughter from the audience.
Commissioner Sandy Griffis said Jarvis’ use of the term “workforce housing” gives her “heartburn.” And not “literally.”
“Sedona is not an epicenter for the workforce … that’s not a workforce,” she said of the proposed housing community. “That’s a retirement community.”
Concerns from the public included fire safety issues, traffic and altering the character of the area.
Sedona City Council declined support of the development during its Oct. 9 meeting. According to minutes, council directed staff to forward comments and concerns to the county. These concerns included; “density, lack of rural character, traffic impacts, desire for a shuttle, restrictions on short-term rentals, absence of green building practices, diversity of housing (to include workforce housing), and affordable housing.”
Former Sedona mayor Rob Adams said Jarvis was trying to sell “a skunk that doesn’t stink.”
After several hours of public comment, Griffis read a stack of sheets in opposition of the project.
“I am going to need throat lozenges,” she said. “I have 500 pounds of trees.”
The project’s final fate will lie with the County Board of Supervisors during a regular meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 9 a.m.
This meeting will also be open for public comment.