Town near Grand Canyon rejects push for taller buildings
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Voters in Tusayan rejected a ballot measure Tuesday that would have led to big changes for the gateway town to Grand Canyon National Park.
The all mail-in election asked residents to decide whether they wanted buildings heights up to 65 feet (20 meters). Of the 131 people who cast ballots, 60 supported the measure, while 71 opposed it.
Italy-based Stilo Development Group USA asked the Town Council for the change after the U.S. Forest Service blocked access to two Stilo properties in town.
The company teamed up with another landowner, Elling Halvorson, in pushing for the higher buildings to develop their property at the edge of town. It has plans for apartment buildings, retail shops and lodging at the site.
Opponents have said it's the wrong kind of development for a town that relies on Grand Canyon tourism. They say Tusayan should support, not detract from the national park, and were worried about impacts to water, traffic and the skyline.
"I'm just really happy that it seems like the Tusayan residents care more about the Grand Canyon than fulfilling every want of the Italian developers via the Town Council," said Clarinda Vail, whose family settled the area in the 1930s.
The Town Council unanimously approved the increased building height earlier this year but was challenged in a petition drive led by Vail. The town clerk and Coconino County officials initially rejected the petition over a signature a judge later deemed to be valid.
Months later, the Town Council voted to settle the question through a ballot measure.
Signs went up around town urging voters to say yes to higher buildings to bring jobs, independence and housing to the community of about 550 people. Other signs asked voters to reject the measure to protect the Grand Canyon.
Andy Jacobs, a spokesman for Stilo, said the company knew the campaign would be an uphill battle.
"What we heard from voters, and we did a lot of outreach, especially in the last couple of weeks, is they still support new opportunities, particularly housing in town," he said Wednesday. "They just weren't sure the height limit was the right way to go about it."
A political action committee funded by a Stilo and Halvorson company, Logan Luca LLC., spent hundreds of dollars on voter lists and the signs, and about $100 on promoted posts on Facebook, Jacobs said. Much of the $12,000 reported in campaign finances went to the consulting firm that employs Jacobs.
A separate committee on which Vail serves as treasurer spent $22,000 on attorney's fees for the legal fight against the ordinance approved by the Town Council, according to campaign finance reports. About $100 went to obtain the names of registered voters.