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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

The Sacred Mountain Lion Dance Team performs inside  The McMillan Bar and Kitchen in Flagstaff Friday evening in celebration of the Chinese New Year. For more photos, visit

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New 1,200-bed student complex on Milton advances

A proposed 1,221 bed student apartment complex on Milton Road is making its way through the city’s approval process, and had its first public hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday.

The project, called Mill Town, will be geared toward student housing, but will also have 48,400 square feet of retail space, with three freestanding commercial establishments and mixed use commercial area on the bottom floor of the residential building.

The 1,221 beds will be included in 340 units, which range in size from studios to five-bedroom units. The project is proposed as part of a series of developments by Phoenix-based Vintage Partners.

City Planning Manager Tiffany Antol said Vintage and the city did parking studies about the development, and determined the residential component would need 0.77 parking spaces per bedroom. Vintage has proposed 0.79 spaces per bedroom, with 965 total parking spaces. The commercial component will have 198 parking spaces, which is what is required by code.

Walter Crutchfield, one of the partners with Vintage, said he has been working to get designated bus and bike-only lanes around the project, but so far has not been able to get the distinction from the city. All residents at Mill Town will be given a bus pass, and the development sits along three bus lines. If the bus lanes are approved, they would be the first in the city.

Vintage is seeking a rezoning on the property to the “highway commercial” zone, which is the zoning many of the surrounding parcels have. The developer is also seeking two conditional use permits on the property, one to rent by the bedroom instead of the unit and one to exceed the height limit in the highway commercial zone.

The highway commercial zone allows a maximum height of 60 feet, or 65 feet if a developer chooses to use a pitched roof, Antol said. The tallest point on the proposed Mill Town building is slightly over 93 feet -- a rooftop lounge on top of the parking garage.

Antol said in an email because of where the tallest point is situated, it “will not be very visible from the street.”

The portion of the mixed-use building with frontage on Milton will have a maximum height of just under 85 feet, because the building is on a slope and in order to keep the roofline the same, the building must be taller where the ground slopes down.

Approximately 20 percent of the building exceeds the allowed 65-foot height, Antol said.

Antol said the proposed mixed use building is “significantly larger” than the surrounding buildings, but fits with the zoning designations of the nearby development.

Mill Town is the third phase of a public-private partnership between the city, the Arizona Department of Transportation, Harkins Theaters and Vintage Partners, which has included building a new Harkins Theaters building near the Flagstaff Mall, and will include converting the old Harkins building on Woodlands Village Boulevard into a new ADOT facility. Once ADOT is moved, Vintage is tasked with extending Beulah Boulevard and realigning University Drive to remove the disconnect on either side of Milton.

In exchange for realigning the streets and relocating the ADOT facility, Vintage will receive two parcels, one owned by ADOT on Milton and University and the other owned by the city directly behind the ADOT parcel, to develop.

Once the roads are aligned, there will be a roundabout installed at the intersection of Beulah, University and Yale Street, which will replace an existing three-way stop intersection.

Antol said the traffic improvements that are coming with the project do enough to offset the traffic impact the project will have, and the developer is not required to do any additional traffic mitigation.

The total area in question is about 18 acres, but once Vintage completes the required street improvements and dedicates the right of way to the city, they will be left with about 10 acres to develop the mixed use and commercial portions.

Vintage voluntarily opted in to the city’s resource protection overlay, which requires set percentages of trees to be preserved, which varies depends on the usage of the development. In order to meet the requirement, Vintage plans to designate a nearly two-acre parcel on the west side of the Beulah Boulevard extension as public open space.

The project to extend Beulah and realign University was part of the city’s transportation tax in 2000. Since the tax was enacted, $7.375 million has been collected to pay for those improvements, Antol said. The city will use that money to pay for the work done by Vintage.

Vintage has also included an underpass beneath Milton in the plans for the project. Work on the underpass would have to be done at night, and Vintage Partners will be responsible for funding that portion of the project, which would be done in conjunction with the Beulah and University portions.

Crutchfield said about 5,000 Northern Arizona University students live on the west side of Milton and on the south side of University who utilize the crosswalks across Milton to get to school and would benefit from the underpass.

Vintage Partners is involved in several other projects around the city. The city council recently approved a $1.6 million fee waiver for a Vintage residential subdivision project off Woody Mountain Road, which will include up to 1,300 residential units, 100 of which will be designated affordable housing.

No members of the public spoke at the commission’s hearing on the Mill Town project.

A second hearing will be held by the commission on February 28 at 4 p.m., and the project is scheduled to go before the city council on March 6.

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Land swap proposal could mean Flagstaff-area forest parcels go to State Lands

An effort to fulfill a decades-old federal commitment to the Hopi Tribe could mean thousands of acres of Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff will get transferred to state hands.

Lands near the base of Mount Elden, northwest of Walnut Canyon and near Forest Highlands were among the parcels nominated for transfer after very preliminary discussions between the office of Sen. John McCain and the Arizona State Land Department.

Talk about the land swap began last year when, at the request of the Hopi Tribe, staff in McCain’s office began exploring options to transfer to the tribe nearly 150,000 acres of state land south of Interstate 40 and east of Flagstaff. The land is interspersed in a checkerboard with parcels the federal government already holds in trust for the Hopi.

The acreage had been promised to the tribe under a 1996 agreement approved by Congress to settle a dispute, now more than a century old, involving Hopi and Navajo lands. More than two decades after that settlement became law, the land has yet to be put into Hopi hands.

Now, the tribe faces the loss of coal royalties that make up about 80 percent of its budget due to next year’s planned shutdown of the Navajo Generating Station and the nearby Kayenta coal mine.

“The Hopi Tribe’s best chance to help improve and diversify our economy is through the settlement lands that we were promised,” former tribal chairman Herman Honanie wrote to McCain in September. Honanie urged the senator to find a solution that would finally bring closure to the Navajo-Hopi land dispute.

“The Hopi Tribe fulfilled its obligation under the 1996 Settlement decades ago but the federal government has not,” Honanie wrote.

He suggested that the federal government pursue a land exchange to sidestep a problematic requirement in the original settlement that the nearly 150,000 acres of state land be condemned before they are sold to become tribal trust land. Under an exchange, federal parcels could instead be used to compensate the state for the value of its land, though such an alternative will need approval by Congress. 

Agreeing with the need to "bring finality to this matter," McCain’s office asked the State Land Department to identify parcels of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land that would have equivalent value to the I-40 acreage promised to the Hopi and would make sense for an exchange, said Lisa Atkins, the land department’s commissioner.

The department came back with a list that includes 83,000 acres, 9,400 of which are on the Coconino National Forest. The idea was to select federal lands that would have equal value to the ones the state would be handing off, aren't already under a special designation like wilderness and would “have some synergy with holdings in the (state) trust already," Atkins said. The department also wanted to maintain a footprint of state lands in northern Arizona, she said.

Atkins would not say where the rest of the proposed acreage is located, only that it is northern Arizona and includes BLM land.

In general, the State Land Department has the option to sell its lands or lease the acreage for development, Atkins said. Management changes on state trust land also aren’t subject to public comment periods like those required for actions on federal lands.

Atkins said her department doesn’t know enough about the resources to be able to say what it would do with land if it is transferred from the Forest Service, for example. She emphasized that the state doesn’t tend to sell off its trust lands and still has ownership of 90 percent of the property it was originally given by the federal government to manage for the benefit of schools.

Atkins and McCain’s staff made clear that the initial proposal that includes parcels around Flagstaff was just a first crack at what land might make sense for a transfer. The areas in focus could completely change as discussions progress and other agencies are brought into the process, they said. 

In a written statement, McCain spokeswoman Julie Tarallo said the senator will remain engaged with local communities to get their input before moving forward with any proposal on a land conveyance. McCain's office has started drafting language for the transfer, called the Navajo-Hopi Land Acquisition Implementation Act of 2017.

Tarallo added that the outcome could benefit northern Arizona by allowing for more economic development along I-40 and better conservation and ecosystem restoration with a switch to state management.

But such a substantial change in land ownership would likely affect several of Coconino County’s planning documents, said Matt Ryan, chair of the county board of supervisors. Forest Service lands aren’t conceived as having any potential for development under county plans, for example. If that changes, it could have major impacts for people who have already bought property or are planning to do so based on the county’s plan.

“We would want to be involved...before anything would transpire associated with this,” Ryan said. “This would be an area where our communities would have a distinct interest."