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Flagstaff zoning commission approves Mill Town height increase, rent by room

A zoning change that would pave the way for the latest massive student housing complex in Flagstaff was unanimously endorsed by citizen planners Wednesday and sent to the city council for final approval.

In addition, the 1,221-bedroom Mill Town housing and commercial complex on Milton Road received from the Flagstaff Planning and Zoning Commission a height variance to 93 feet from 65 feet for 20 percent of its buildings and permission to rent by the bedroom

Commissioner Marie Jones, who fought the 591-bed Hub as a Southside neighborhood leader last year, said she liked that Mill Town would not be in an existing neighborhood, unlike some other large housing developments that have received pushback from the community.

“It’s a tradeoff to go a little higher, but there is some natural area preserved,” she said, referring to a parcel on the west side of Beulah Boulevard that the developer, Vintage Partners, has set aside as open space.

Jones said the area where the development is to be built has been identified as an acceptable place for large scale development, and said the mixed use portion could create a neighborhood feel.

Courtesy of Vintage Partners 

An artist's rendering shows the view of the Mill Town mixed-use housing development from Milton Road. 

Nine members of the public addressed the commission at the meeting Wednesday afternoon, with people voicing opinions both for and against the development.

Those who opposed the development referenced the large size of the mixed-use building, and expressed worry that renting by the bedroom would drive up the costs of housing in the city.

Marilyn Weissman, one of the members of the public to speak at the meeting, said she believes large-scale student housing developments are incompatible with Flagstaff.

“When are we going to say enough is enough?” she said. “We are using limited developable land for temporary residents.”

Michael Amundson, who also spoke against the project, said developers should build to the height allowed in the zoning code.

“Why can’t people build things to the laws we have?” Amundson said. “Please, build it to what we ask for you.”

At the highest point, the rooftop bar, the building will be 40 percent higher than the zoning limit allows.

Daniel Williamson, who also addressed the commission during the public comment period, said he liked the project because it may move students out of neighborhoods and free up some rental housing for other residents.

Jeff Meilbeck, the CEO of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, which operates Mountain Line buses, spoke in favor of the project. It will sit along three bus routes and will provide bus passes for residents.

“We at NAIPTA conclude the Mill Town project is important and want it to proceed,” he said.

Along with extending Beulah Boulevard and realigning University Avenue, the project is also to include an underpass beneath Milton Road for pedestrians and bicycles.

Courtesy of Vintage Partners 

An artist's rendering shows the residential mixed use buildings in the proposed Mill Town development.


Vintage is seeking a rezoning on the property to the “highway commercial” zone, which is the zoning of many of the surrounding parcels. The commission recommended the council approve the zoning change. The commission has the authority to grant or deny conditional use permits, which is what Vintage sought for the height and rental structure. However, the council will have to approve the zoning change request for the height allowance to be applicable.

Most of the parcel is now zoned public facility, to accommodate the ADOT offices.

The mixed use building will contain 1,221 bedrooms, which will be marketed to students.

The highway commercial zone allows a maximum height of 60 feet, or 65 feet if a developer chooses to use a pitched roof, City Planning Manager Tiffany 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 less than 20 percent of the building will exceed the 65-foot limit.

The project is proposed to be built between Milton Road and Beulah Boulevard, on the site which is now the Arizona Department of Transportation office.

The portion of the mixed use building, which has ground floor commercial uses with residential spaces above, that faces Milton Road also exceeds the height limit, due to a slope on the property that lowers the elevation of the land, meaning if the building is to keep a consistent roofline, it must be taller.

Antol said Vintage and the city did parking studies about the project, 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.

The commercial component of the development includes pad for three free-standing commercial units, which are expected to contain a small grocery store, a drive-through restaurant and another commercial space. The mixed use building will also have ground floor commercial uses. The rooftop bar will only be accessible through the commercial portion of the building, said Carolyn Oberholtzer, an attorney representing Vintage. People living in the building who wish to go to the bar will have to enter through the commercial side and will be subject to age verification.

An artist's rendering shows the proposed underpass beneath Milton Road. 


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 disconnection 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.

The Flagstaff City Council will hold its first hearing about the project at its March 6 meeting.

Courtesy of Vintage Partners 

An artist's rendering shows the residential mixed use buildings in the proposed Mill Town development.

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Basis Flagstaff teacher caught up in Olympics during home visit to Korea

While the world had its eyes on South Korea for a few weeks last month to watch the best winter athletes from across the world compete, Flagstaff resident Juhee Park was back in her home country for the first time in about 17 years.

Park and her family moved from South Korea to Michigan when she was young, and she moved to Flagstaff after receiving a scholarship to Northern Arizona University’s music program. After a hand injury left her unable to complete some of the more strenuous piano practices required for a major, she ended up receiving a graduate degree in math and now teaches at Basis Flagstaff.

Park also plays as an accompanist for some local churches and the Master Chorale of Flagstaff.

She traveled back to South Korea in February to attend a wedding, not to see the Olympics, but said the airport was full of travelers eager to see the games.

“It was really interesting being there,” Park said. “Everywhere we went, the Olympics were on.”

Figure skater Yuna Kim was the country’s most recent Olympics superstar, and since she stopped competing at the Olympics the country has been looking for new breakout stars, Park said. The women’s curling team became popular this year, because many in the country had never heard of the sport, and the team had very little time to practice before the games, Park said.

The South Korean women ended up earning the silver medal, which came as a surprise to the whole country, she said.

“Curling got really famous,” Park said. “People didn’t really know about the sport before.”

One of the Korean couples in figure skating used a traditional Korean song, which Park said was a hit with local fans.

Park cheers for both the United States and Korean teams, and she had some funny moments when people in Korea saw her cheer out loud for an American team.

With much of the focus on North and South Korea competing as one team, Park said South Korean people are divided on the issue.

“Some people really loved it,” she said. “They say sometime soon the countries should unite. But on the other end, people say why should we do this when North Korea is threatening us?”

In her experience, it has seemed like the older generations who may know people who are still in North Korea seem to be the ones who favor uniting the countries, while younger people, who might only have distant relatives in North Korea, seem like they are less supportive of unification.

When she was visiting South Korea, she asked her boyfriend’s aunt what it was like living so close to North Korea while there are so many threats.

The aunt told her that the perception around the world is that the South Korean people are really calm, despite the threats, but really, people are very worried about it.

Park said she worries about her relatives, but the Korean peninsula is so small, an attack from North Korea on South Korea would hit and harm North Korea, too.

Park runs the Korean Club at Basis, where they learn about different aspects of Korean culture, like the popular K-pop music and watch Korean TV shows and movies. Members of the club learn Korean writing characters and some basics of the language.

Study debunks obesity paradox: People with extra pounds don't actually live longer

LOS ANGELES — For several years, researchers have struggled to explain the obesity paradox. This is the observation that, after being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, people who are overweight or obese live longer than people who have a healthy weight.

How is it possible for those extra pounds to provide extra years of life? The answer, it turns out, is simple.

They don't.

A new study shows what's really going on: People who are overweight or obese are being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease at younger ages. Although they do spend more years living with the disease than their slimmer peers, they do not live longer overall.

Indeed, one of the main effects of carrying around too much excess weight is that you get fewer years of disease-free life.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine figured this out by examining data from the Cardiovascular Disease Lifetime Risk Pooling Project.

They pulled medical information on 190,672 Americans who did not have cardiovascular disease when they began being tracked by researchers. All of them had their height and weight measured at least once, and all of them were followed for at least 10 years. Altogether, they provided researchers with 3.2 million years of health data.

The researchers grouped the study participants according to their age and their weight status. Starting with people between the ages of 40 and 59, they saw that those who were overweight or obese had a higher risk of a heart attack, stroke or congestive heart failure than did those with a normal weight.

For instance, among middle-aged men, 37 percent of those who were overweight (that is, with a body mass index between 25 and 29.9) experienced some type of cardiovascular event after joining a study. So did 47 percent of men who were obese (with a body mass index between 30 and 39.9) and 65.4 percent of those who were morbidly obese (with a BMI of 40 or above). By comparison, 32 percent of men with a BMI in the normal range (between 18.5 and 24.9) suffered a cardiovascular event.

Among middle-aged women, 27.9 percent of those who were overweight had a heart attack, stroke or congestive heart failure after joining a study, as did 38.8 percent of those who were obese and 47.6 percent of those who were morbidly obese. Among women with a normal weight, 21.5 percent experienced one of these cardiovascular events.

After adjusting the data to account for risk factors like age, race, ethnicity and smoking status, Khan and her colleagues found that the higher the BMI, the greater the lifetime risk of some type of heart problem. For example, compared to middle-aged men with a normal BMI, the risk of a heart attack (either fatal or nonfatal) was 18 percent higher for men who were overweight, 42 percent higher for men who were obese, and 98 percent higher for men who were morbidly obese.

For middle-aged women, the risk of a heart attack was 42 percent higher for those who were overweight, 75 percent higher for those who were obese and 80 percent higher for those who were morbidly obese.

The researchers found that middle-aged adults with a normal weight lived the most years free of cardiovascular disease. For instance, men who were morbidly obese experienced their first cardiovascular event 7.5 years sooner than men with a normal BMI. For women, the difference was 7.1 years.

In addition, a normal weight was associated with a longer life overall. Middle-aged men with a normal BMI lived 5.6 years longer than men who were morbidly obese, while women with a normal BMI lived 2 years longer than women who were morbidly obese.

All of these patterns were similar in younger and in older adults, the researchers found.

By looking at people's health over a longer period of time — not just after they've been diagnosed with a heart problem — the true significance of the obesity paradox comes into view.

"The obesity paradox ... appears largely to be caused by earlier diagnosis of CVD," the researchers wrote, using an abbreviation for cardiovascular disease.

"Adults who were obese had an earlier onset of incident CVD, a greater proportion of life lived with CVD morbidity (unhealthy life years), and shorter overall survival compared with adults with normal BMI," they concluded.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

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Two arrested in east Flagstaff homicide

Abraham Puentes Ortiz

Adonis Encinas Velarde

Two Flagstaff men were arrested Thursday after a woman was shot and killed Wednesday night in east Flagstaff, Flagstaff Police Department officials said.

Kinsey Beebe, 19, was found shot and in critical condition Wednesday night when officers responded to a call about shots fired near the 1900 block of east Arrowhead Avenue at approximately 11:30 p.m., Flagstaff Police spokesman Sgt. Cory Runge said in a press release.

Beebe was transported to Flagstaff Medical Center, where she died of her injuries.

Approximately half an hour after Beebe was found shot, police receive another call of shots fired in the area of North Sanford Place and North Miranda Way, Runge said. Police determined it had been a drive-by shooting at an occupied residential structure, but no one was injured.

At 2 a.m. Thursday, Adonis Encinas Velarde, 20, turned himself in and was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping, disorderly conduct with a weapon, discharging a weapon in city limits, drive-by shooting of an occupied structure, and assisting a criminal street gang, Runge said.

Velarde told police he witnessed the murder of Beebe and was the person who fired the gun in the drive-by shooting, Runge said.

At approximately 8:45 a.m. Thursday, Abraham Puentes Ortiz, 22, was found and arrested at the 700 block of South Blackbird Roost. He was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping, disorderly conduct with a weapon, discharging a weapon in city limits, drive-by shooting of an occupied structure, and assisting a criminal street gang, Runge said.

Ortiz told police he shot Beebe three times and drove the vehicle in the drive-by shooting, Runge said.

The men allegedly told police they had been drinking with Beebe at the 1900 block of east Arrowhead Avenue. During their time there, the men went outside and fired one shot from an altered Ruger handgun with the serial number removed, Runge said.

Beebe confronted the men about the shooting because there were other people inside the house. The men then placed the gun inside the home and went for a walk. When they returned, they found out Beebe had hidden the gun. The three got in an argument and Beebe made a phone call, Runge said.

Ortiz, who was armed with a Glock handgun, shot Beebe in the head and neck three times, Runge said.

The men fled the scene in a minivan, which had an AR-15 rifle inside, Runge said. Velarde fired a gun at an occupied structure during the drive away from where Beebe was murdered.

Velarde then fled from Ortiz because he believed Ortiz would kill him next, Runge said. Velarde then surrendered himself to police.

When police located Ortiz, he was armed with a Glock handgun and police located an AR-15 in his residence.

Police believe they have arrested all suspects in the case and there is no ongoing threat to the public, Runge said.

Congress stalls on guns as Trump's stance scrambles debate

WASHINGTON — Action on gun legislation skidded to a halt Thursday in Congress — not for a lack of bipartisan proposals, but because President Donald Trump's stunning shift on gun policy left some in his party confused, irritated and scrambling to figure out what to do next.

Republicans squirmed over Trump's call for stricter gun laws after the assault on a Florida high school, while Democrats seized on the opening to reach beyond a modest measure gaining traction in Congress. They unveiled a more ambitious priority list, with expanded background checks and even a politically risky ban on assault weapons.

Without a clear path forward for any legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shelved the gun debate, for now, saying the Senate would turn next week to other measures. McConnell had been preparing to push ahead with an incremental proposal from Sens. John Cornyn and Chris Murphy, but even that measure faced some GOP opposition.

"I'm hoping there's a way forward," he told reporters.

Congress is under pressure to act after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last month that left 17 dead. Lawmakers had been making incremental progress on a bill to boost participation in the existing federal background check bill.

But after Trump's pronouncements this week, that legislation hardly mattered. Trump panned the bipartisan bill as little more than a building block for the "beautiful" and "comprehensive" legislation he envisioned would protect Americans from mass shootings.

"Many ideas, some good & some not so good," Trump tweeted Thursday, singling out background checks. "After many years, a bill should emerge."

Trump suggested — but did not declare — his support for a more sweeping background check bill that would require review of firearm purchases online and at gun shows. The measure, from Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has found new momentum since it was first introduced after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 children dead.

The president reached out to Toomey on Thursday, after the senator endured the brunt of Trump's public criticism of lawmakers as "afraid" of the National Rifle Association, and encouraged him to pursue the bill.

The senator told Trump his backing would be needed to build support. "He wants to be helpful," Toomey told The Associated Press.

Amid the shifting debate, the president convened yet another meeting on school safety, this time with school shooting survivors and family members of victims, and the White House considered releasing the president's list of legislative priorities.

Beyond background checks, the president wants to use an executive order to bar the use of bump stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons. And he backs more controversial ideas, including increasing the minimum age for the purchase of assault weapons from 18 to 21, which is opposed by the NRA, and arming certain teachers, which the gun lobby supports.

Lawmakers were frustrated by Trump's comments. Cornyn insisted his bill with Murphy, a Connecticut Democrats, was "our best and only option" for passage.

The Texas Republican dismissed Wednesday's "brainstorming" session at the White House — calling it "Legislating 101" — and said he was not waiting for the president to produce a plan.

"Obviously, he's important," Cornyn said about Trump. "But it's our job to write the legislation and he either vetoes it or he signs it."

Democrats wasted no time quickly outlining their top three priorities: background checks, the ability to take guns away from those who pose a "clear danger," and at least a debate on banning assault weapons like the AR-15 used at the Florida high school.

"Not every Democrat will agree with every piece, but my caucus is prepared to provide a very large number of votes to get these passed," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "But we can't do it alone."

Without clear leadership, Republicans were outwardly divided over what to do next, as their offices are being flooded with calls on both sides of the issue.

Several senators doubted Trump would be able to move an intensely partisan Congress to act on new gun laws.

"I love my president, but I just respectfully disagree with him on this issue," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. "So far, there's been a lot of chopping, but I don't see any chips flying, and I'm not sure that's going to change."

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman suggested that even if the Senate can find agreement, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Ohio, will face a tougher legislative lift in the House.

"There are some pretty strong views," Portman said. "Trust me, I'm hearing from my Second Amendment supporters and my ban-the-gun supporters. They're very concerned on both sides."

And some Republicans worked in the opposite direction, introducing legislation to expand gun owners' rights and forcefully criticizing Trump's suggestion that the federal government could take away guns without due process.

"Is anyone ok with this, because I'm sure as hell not," Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted Thursday. He produced a bill to lower the handgun purchase age requirement to 18.

The NRA called the bulk of the proposals discussed at the White House this week "bad policy" that would not keep people safe.