Flagstaff City Council and mayoral candidates have been given the chance to answer a weekly question in no more than 150 words. This week’s question: How well do you think the city of Flagstaff is managing growth and what could it do better?
Growth is measured by many components such as Natural Environment, Built Environment and Human Environment.
As far as Natural Environment goes, in 2014 there were 2,769 acres of open space. In 2017 there were 3,069 acres of open space. The trend for Environmental and Conservation Planning is stable and is improving for Flagstaff.
Built Environment includes housing and neighborhoods which are measured by different indexes such as average housing costs, transportation costs and rental/ownership ratio. All three of these measurements are dependent upon opportunities for quality employment that pays a living wage and provides benefits. This is the Human Environment.
Growth is a complex issue that needs to be discussed, planned and acted upon by informed, elected officials. Flagstaff's successful growth management is dependent upon the commitment of elected officials to study the data and make informed decisions.
As one of the most desirable places to live in the Southwest, we should expect to have population and economic growth. Our growth strategies should encourage a balanced employer base that can offer economic rewards (compensation) and quality of life opportunities to our community. Putting aside all of the pros and cons as to how we have grown historically as a community, conserving our water resources and having an effective infrastructure seems to be essential to managing our growth.
Many community members are concerned with the growth of the student housing stock and they were not aware as to how it was planned. Enhanced messaging/communications from the City’s leaders is necessary to present the planning process.
So in response to the question, it seems that the City has managed growth fairly well considering the traffic limitations of several of our major roads, and costs to maintain our infrastructure.
After grad school my family returned to northern Arizona to be closer to relatives and to enjoy Flagstaff’s stellar quality of life. Over the coming decades many others will flock here for similar reasons.
I believe Flagstaff can welcome newcomers and manage growth without compromising what attracted past settlers here: our scrappy character, our diversity, and our access to extraordinary landscapes and dark skies.
It’s critical to uphold our sustainability challenges as “boxes” to check before growth is approved. It’s also essential that Flagstaff remains accessible to all. We cannot prioritize second home-owners and students over a workforce crushed by high costs and a housing affordability gap.
Smart growth includes recruiting companies and supporting local entrepreneurs to hire jobseekers from our available skilled workforce. It requires protecting natural resources. But we’ll only thrive as we grow if we creatively address affordability concerns and innovate to meet the needs of all.
The city is doing its best managing growth. The 2014 voter-approved Flagstaff Regional Plan sets the framework for development. However, in recent years, the city appears to be responding to rapid growth in reactive mode. It’s time to review the Regional Plan and identify what works and what does not. An example is McMillan Mesa Management Plan underway for the 2016 voter-approved “Greater Buffalo Park” protecting open space initially intended for housing development as stipulated in the Regional Plan.
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Growth can be planned, managed and sustainable to advance economic vitality. I aim for balanced eco-tourism, business retention/expansion, well-planned multimodal transportation, infrastructure development, road management, affordable housing, water conservation, and sensible alternative energy, while preserving natural areas, open spaces and dark skies.
This can be done by pursuing public-private partnerships, fostering synergy and cooperation among partners in the city’s growth including small business, local nonprofits, Coconino County, and Northern Arizona University.
Planning ahead to ensure Flagstaff upholds smart growth principles such as walkable neighborhoods, diverse transportation choices, preservation of open space, updated energy codes, and core development that curbs urban sprawl, is crucial. Unfortunately, we are already paying the price for planning decisions made by previous councils. We now need strong leadership to put a more sustainable vision going forward.
First, we need a better plan and collaboration with NAU to address student housing. We need more bus routes and frequency. We need to keep Flagstaff homes occupied by year-round residence. We need connecting bicycling routes. And we need to focus on in-fill and build upwards but not exceed height regulations, or block views, to help alleviate our housing shortages.
I believe there is a way to make positive change and I look forward to working on this with concerned groups, individuals, and city staff.
Flagstaff can do better.
One thing I don’t hear in development negotiations is the fact that contracts can require developers to pay for public transportation to reach new developments, and I’ve discussed with NAIPTA expanding our bus system through these type of contracts.
I support the transportation proposition that will be on the November ballot, for one because of the extension of JW Powell from Lone Tree to Fourth Street, which can help provide multi-modal housing opportunities for the many needs of our community. Because of the city’s capital investment, we’ll have more leverage to add contingencies to development such as public transportation support and water conservation requirements. We may need apartments, but we also need single-family homes, townhomes, and tiny houses for locals.
Growth is inevitable, but let’s protect our historic neighborhoods, find better places to grow, and provide for all people, not just students.
Flagstaff has seen consistent growth for sometime and has done little to manage it. Many don’t want to see Flagstaff grow; there hasn’t been the political will to address it and growth was largely left to the market. In Arizona we have the added challenge of proposition 207 which limits what council can require of developers.
This council has taken a proactive approach and negotiated with developers to secure things like affordable housing, open space, and infrastructure. We should be more proactive and plan for alternate routes around town, livable neighborhoods, and workforce housing.
Flagstaff is a desirable place. People will continue to move here. Will they fill into our already full neighborhoods or will we create places to house them? We should plan for neighborhoods that reflect Flagstaff’s character. This requires working with developers and property owners, conversation and compromise.
Fortunately, I think we’re starting to get there.