Tusayan, AZ – The Tusayan Town Council is scheduled to vote on controversial zoning changes this evening. If passed, those changes would pave the way for a large-scale development at the doorstep to the Grand Canyon National Park. Last week, the new park superintendent joined a growing chorus of critics and asked the town council to postpone its decision. For Arizona Public Radio, Claudine LoMonaco has this report.
When Dave Uberuaga considers what could happen at the Grand Canyon if tonight's vote goes through, he shudders.
Second homes, timeshares, resort spa destinations, all those, what I call, my worst fears.
Worst fears, because Uberuaga is the new superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park. It's his job to protect it.
The re-zoning in Tusayan, population 550, would allow up to 8000 new residents and 3 million square feet of new commercial development. That's about the size of 30 Walmarts. The request comes from the Stilo Group, a large Italian development firm. The Group tried and failed to build a similar development in the area 10 years ago.
Uberuaga worries the increased traffic could overwhelm the Park's aging infrastructure. More importantly, his worries about where the Stilo Group will get its water.
I'm concerned that they will be drilling wells on these private properties that will impact all of the Grand Canyon and its seeps, creeks, caves.
He says that if the developers pump the ground water, it could drain those areas. And under Arizona law, there is little to stop them.
Last week, Uberuaga asked the town council to delay approval of the zoning changes. It's been two month since the rezoning request was filed. For such a massive project, he said it's not nearly enough time to understand potential impacts.
We haven't had specifics about what they really plan to do. They said they had have a plan for water, but they haven't said what it is. They've said they had a plan for retail, but they haven't said what it is going to be.
We're not trying to keep anyone in the dark. We're trying to be open.
That's Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan. He says the town council has been talking to the developers for the last 8 months, and doesn't think the process has been rushed. He says even if the council approves the re-zoning, the developers will have more work to do.
There is a great many hurdles they have yet to do that the public is going to have plenty of time to speak on and provide their input. Not only to us, but to the forest service as well, so this isn't a done deal. We've just given them the opportunity to develop their land.
Je Vousdrais .(sound of tourists buying stamps) Sure, That will be
At the small post office in Tusayan, Bill Fitzgerald sells stamps to the millions of tourists on their way to the Grand Canyon. Last month, he was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the town council, but he's still leading an effort to recall the Mayor and two other council members.
I and many people in this town believe that the people on the town council cannot be unbiased and give an unfair and impartial decision.
Mayor Bryan and the others either work for or rent property from the developers. The Stilo Group also sent Bryan and another member on an all expense paid trip to Italy. The company paid a third council member 8,500 dollars in bonuses for working on the campaign to incorporate Tusayan last year.
In fact, the Stilo Group spent more $600,000 on that campaign. Now that the town is independent. Fitzgerald says the developers have to convince only Tusayan's five council members to approve their plans, and not the entire county.
It looks to most of us that this is being fast tracked because the developers know they have a majority on the town council at this time, and they may not have it at the next election.
Fitzgerald says that if the council passes the zoning change tonight, it would be hard to stop the project. Unless Tusayan voters take it to a referendum next March. That's how Coconino County voters stop the Stilo group's development plans the last time.
For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Claudine LoMonaco.