A ballot measure that would have paved the way for increased development in the town of Tusayan failed by 11 votes on Tuesday night.

Of the 131 votes cast, 60 were in favor of the measure and 71 were against it.

If it had passed, the referendum would have increased the maximum building height in Tusayan to 65 feet, up from a current limit of between 35 feet and 40 feet. Rejection means the town’s current building height restrictions will stay the same.

Opponents of the measure said higher buildings would have diminished the views in this gateway to the Grand Canyon, cast more light into the area’s famously dark skies and put more demand on important groundwater resources.

Longtime resident and Tusayan hotel owner Clarinda Vail led the campaign to oppose the ballot measure.

“I would say I’m thrilled to see that Tusayan residents are more for protecting the Grand Canyon than continuing to give Italian developers via Town Council everything they want,” Vail said in an interview Tuesday night.

The initial request for Tusayan’s Town Council to consider a building height change came from the Italian-based Stilo Development Group USA, the company trying to build two major developments outside of Tusayan. Last year, the Forest Service rejected the town’s application for road easements necessary for Stilo to develop those two commercial, resort and housing projects.

Stilo also co-owns an RV park in the middle of Tusayan and wanted to build a mixed-use development with some structures that would reach that 65-foot limit, Stilo spokesman Andy Jacobs said.

The Tusayan Town Council unanimously approved the higher building heights in April, but Vail spearheaded a successful petition drive to put the new ordinance to a public vote.

Supporters of the height increase had said it opens up new opportunities for Tusayan to grow and accommodate more visitors.

“We can’t build out horizontally so we have to build vertically. That’s the only option,” Town Manager Eric Duthie said in an interview this summer.

But the infrastructure at Grand Canyon National Park is already stressed and bringing in more multi-day visitors just increases that demand, said Alicyn Gitlin, with the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. She said she worries that lights from higher buildings will be seen from the north rim of the canyon and said Tusayan should be pursuing development plans in a way that is more complementary to the park’s natural resources.

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Chris Lehnertz wrote a letter to the town in April, noting potential impacts of a building height change to viewsheds and the park’s night sky resource. The park has not provided any additional input on the issue since then, said Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski, spokeswoman with Grand Canyon National Park.

In recent interviews, Lehnertz said she believes the park has a strong relationship with the town.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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