A request for proposals for affordable housing will include a three-acre parcel on Fort Valley and Schultz Pass roads, despite hundreds of public comments and emails to the Flagstaff City Council urging the council not to include the land.
After nearly two hours of public comment at Tuesday evening’s work session regarding the parcel of land, Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and councilmembers Eva Putzova, Scott Overton and Celia Barotz said they would be in favor of leaving the parcel on Schultz Pass parcel as part of the request. Councilmembers Jim McCarthy and Charlie Odegaard said they would have preferred the request add a different parcel of city-owned land, and leaving the Schultz Pass piece undeveloped.
Overton said he had met with landlords and property managers who manage rental property in the past week, and people he talked to said there can be hundreds of people on waitlists for apartments and rental homes. The project, including all three parcels, would be a good way to increase rental capacity in the city, he said.
“I want to leave this piece in, I think it’s responsible for us to leave this piece in,” he said. “If we pull the Schultz Pass piece, it would be challenging for us to have any success. Honestly if there were five parcels ready, I’d put all five in the equation.”
Barotz, who lives near the Schultz Pass parcel, said she had wrestled with the decision for weeks before deciding to choose to keep the Schultz Pass piece in the request for proposals.
Putzova said it “is always hard when we develop land that we are used to seeing as open space,” but said she was comfortable keeping the piece included. “Those people will have wonderful views,” she said.
Odegaard said when he sees the city’s logo, which includes a view of the Peaks, he thinks of that parcel.
“I worry that logo would be gone forever,” he said, adding that he would have liked the city to identify a different parcel for the proposal.
At the session, 36 community members voiced their opinions about the parcel, with many residents of the nearby Cheshire neighborhood and other areas saying they understand the need for affordable housing in the city, but did not think that piece, which has unencumbered views of the San Francisco Peaks and is home to a prairie dog colony was not the appropriate place.
Dave Stilley, the owner of the land directly adjacent to the Schultz Pass parcel, said he did not support the development and said he would like to see all the land in the area, including his own, remain open and undeveloped.
“Everyone here has some deep, spiritual connection to that mountain,” he said.
Other speakers noted the sunflowers that grow in the area, and said visitors from all around the city, as well as throughout the state, stop by the parcel to take photos and see the views. One speaker said the flowers are not “just a view, but a feeling.”
However, those in support of the parcel’s inclusion said affordable housing should take precedence over views.
“If everyone is so concerned about open spaces, why didn’t anyone work to get the area designated as open space?” speaker Emily Davalos said at the meeting. “Really, sunflowers are not more important than people’s ability to live.”
At the city council’s May 23 work session the council directed city staff to move forward with a request for proposals to create affordable rental units on three pieces of city property, totaling five acres of land which could accommodate between 60 and 65 rental units among the three properties.
In addition to the largest property on Fort Valley across from Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, two others are on the east side of the city.
City Housing Director Sarah Darr said both the Schultz Pass property and one of the properties on the east side, on Izabel Street south of Coconino High School, were purchased by the city with funds specifically for housing purposes. The third parcel, on West Street near the Safeway shopping center, had previously been offered for use for senior living.
In addition to those who spoke at the meeting, the city received 144 online forum responses as well as 56 emails regarding the development of affordable housing, particularly on the parcel at Shultz Pass and Fort Valley Roads.
The majority of responses, both over email and to the online question, “What does the community think about using three city owned parcels for development of affordable rental housing?” did not favor any development on the Schultz Pass property.
However, Darr said, the city obtained the land through housing funding, and the land had been designated for affordable housing since the city acquired it in 2005.
In Darr’s presentation to the council, she mentioned the majority of those opposed to using the Schultz Pass Meadows parcel for affordable housing listed traffic concerns on the already congested Highway 180 as their reason for opposing the development. The second and third most listed concerns were loss of natural beauty and loss of open space on that piece of land.
All three parcels would have to be included in the request for proposals in order for a developer’s application for the Low Income Housing tax credit to be competitive, Darr said. A realistic proposal that to be chosen for the tax credit should have at least 55 to 60 units to be taken seriously, she said.
The award process is “highly competitive,” Darr said, and awardees are typically private developers, which can be nonprofit organizations.
In order to qualify for the tax credit, the units must remain affordable for a minimum of 15 years. However, Flagstaff requires the units to be affordable for a minimum of 30 years, Darr said. The city already has about 800 units created through the tax credit program, and she said a survey of the residents that live in those units showed many of them are employed by some of the city’s largest employers, including the Flagstaff Unified School District, the city, Coconino County and other large employers.
The units will be available to people who earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income, meaning a family of four that earns $37,680 or less would qualify.
The city will issue the request in the upcoming weeks, and then city staff will rank the proposals, Darr said. The proposal that is ranked the highest will then come to the council for consideration.