Every decade, by law, Flagstaff voters are asked to weigh in on the regional plan. The next vote is scheduled for May 20, 2014. The Flagstaff Regional Plan 2030 process spanned five years, with a Citizens’ Advisory Council and more than 700 public comments. Earlier this year, 55 public forums were held, where residents were invited to offer input.
One concern brought up at each of the public forums was the fact that county residents are not a part of the city’s voting process. Flagstaff Councilman Jeff Oravits is working to change that, an effort that would require a state-level legislative change or a voter-approved referendum.
Garland Prairie resident Leonard Earl wants to see such a change. “My frustration is the decisions are made by a small group of people who are willing to show up and vote, but we deal with the consequences, the rules and ordinances.” Like many county residents, Earl commutes to his job in Flagstaff from his rural neighborhood east of Williams. He says he has seen many changes to the region since he moved here in 1991 and would appreciate being able to vote on a long-term Flagstaff regional plan.
Oravits’s plan for expanded input by county residents would not include Garland Prairie, but would encompass neighborhoods in the greater Flagstaff region like Kachina Village, Doney Park, Baderville and other nearby areas.
Judy Sall is a county resident who lives north of the mall. Ten years ago, she and her husband relocated from Southern California because they enjoyed the city’s charm. Sall attended the Flagstaff Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing late last month to express concerns about sprawl, which she believes could happen under the draft regional plan. “There are a lot of things they want to do that I feel are going to change the character of this city fundamentally. I don’t want to live in a cookie cutter community. And that is what I think is going to happen with this plan,” said Sall, who believes there are good things in the draft, too.
But what exactly is the regional plan and does it have teeth?
A city memorandum describes the Flagstaff Regional Plan as a policy guide required by law and an amendment to Coconino County’s Comprehensive Plan. The city’s plan “provides the basis for policies and regulations to guide physical and economic development within the Flagstaff region. It establishes balanced predictability in the decision-making process.” The Flagstaff Regional Plan 2030 covers a variety of topics from the natural environment, the built environment and the human environment.
It is not a sexy topic, says Eva Putzova, referring to zoning, infrastructure and other chapters in the draft. Putzova served on the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) for the nearly five years it took to revise the regional plan and create an updated document. “I cannot say that everything I wanted to be in the plan is in the plan. I don’t think there is a single CAC member who can say that. I think it is the nature of the democratic process of creating a planning document that is a guideline and creates a vision for our community,” added Putzova, who was selected to serve on the committee.
After public hearings and meetings this fall, the Flagstaff City Council will vote on whether or not to adopt the plan as written and forward to it city voters for the May General Election. Approval of the plan will require a 5-2 vote by the Flagstaff City Council. Revisions to the draft also are possible.
Councilman Oravits is likely going to seek revisions, based on comments during an interview with Flagstaff Business News. He gave examples in numerous chapters of the plan’s draft where he believes verbiage does not reflect the majority. “In one section it says the future workforce will desire to be connected to work and friends in a very efficient manner by walking, biking using transit or virtually. That is good. But we can’t forget that there is also the automobile and we can’t just drop that out when the vast majority of people, that is how they get around,” said Oravits. The first-term councilman says he is supportive of local environmental efforts and wants to balance those with a focus on economic development.
In his efforts to garner more input from county residents at the polls, Oravits is reaching out to groups and stakeholders who might be affected by Flagstaff’s Regional Plan. “It is odd that the city gets to vote and the county doesn’t. I don’t represent the county, but I feel it is an issue I have to address.”
Oravits is also talking with state lawmakers including Brenda Barton, a Republican from Payson who represents Flagstaff in Legislative District Six. She says she is supportive of protecting property rights in Arizona. “I really believe in people having a vote on what government does, and when it impacts you, you should be able to participate more directly,” Barton said.
But city staffers say significant efforts have been made to include county input in each step of the process. Comprehensive Planning Manager Kimberly Sharp says the regional plan steering committee is comprised of two county supervisors, the county deputy manager and the county planning director. The committee guided the process, says Sharp, addressing budgets, scheduling and larger political issues. “City staff has worked closely with county planning staff for the five-year process, holding monthly and sometimes bi-weekly Core Planning Team meetings,” said Sharp.
The Citizen Advisory Committee included county residents; input also was welcomed from the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish, Coconino County Parks and Recreation and Coconino County Open Space. In addition, all focus groups and working groups had representation from city and county residents and business owners, added Sharp.
The Chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Liz Archuletta, said in a statement that the county values the cooperation with the city on the regional plan. “We collaborate to ensure continuity between governments and to save money for our taxpayers in the long run. This is unique to our area and reflective of the values our citizens hold,” said Archuletta, who says the board sees the benefit to continuing the current practice of collaboration.
Supervisor Matt Ryan calls that cooperation progressive; he has represented parts of the county including Kachina Village for more than a dozen years and been active in the regional planning processes.
Ryan says the idea of having county residents vote on Flagstaff’s regional plan seems like a good idea at first. “For a city resident this means that those that vote from the approximately 30,000 residents in the County that do not pay city property taxes, and do not have the same ordinances could dictate what the city’s comprehensive plan would be,” explained Ryan in an email to FBN. “On the other side, would a Kachina Village, Mountainaire, Doney Park, or Fort Valley resident want a city majority controlling plans that overlay their communities?”
Ryan thinks the current system allows for county communities to maintain their individual characters, while the city and county keep jurisdictional anomalies separate. FBN
To read the document and see a list of upcoming meetings and public hearings on the Flagstaff Regional Plan and the Coconino County Comprehensive Plan, go to www.flagstaffmatters.com/.