The Coconino County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to disapprove a proposed resort and RV park 28 miles east of Flagstaff at Two Guns this week.
The board cited concerns over fire safety and cultural resources as reasons for denying the requested rezone by Indiana-based Gunderman Designs & Concepts Inc.
The project would have included 774 lodging units, almost 400 of which would have been designed for RVs, plus about 30 units for worker housing on the site.
The development also would have included several restaurants and a steakhouse near the highway that could serve both guests and those simply passing through. On top of that were two water parks, showers, a small drive-in theater, a mini-golf course, a rodeo, a clubhouse and welcome center, and areas to host gatherings.
Lead architect Chris Armer highlighted the jobs the development would create and the visitors it would attract.
“From the beginning of the project it was meant to be a fun place for travelers to visit, to enjoy the unique landscape,” Armer said. “The resort is also a perfect complement to the neighboring attractions of Twin Arrows Casino and Meteor Crater.”
The 247-acre parcel is intersected by Diablo Canyon and contains historic features, including old segments of Route 66 and the remains of a zoo and KOA campground. The site also holds historic significance to some local tribal groups.
In 1878, members of the Navajo tribe ambushed a group of Apache raiders in a cave on the site. Navajos set fire to the entrance of the cave where the group of Apache had taken cover, killing all 42 of them.
In December, the board had delayed making a decision on the project to allow the developers additional time, and asked them to make the project more culturally sensitive. The developers at that point had wanted to include teepees that guests could stay in, a prospect Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler had called demeaning to local Native American residents and groups.
Ahead of this week’s meeting, the developer had agreed to remove the teepees and hogans in addition to taking out all references to Native Americans from the project. The project’s internal market, for example, would have been called the “market” as opposed to the “Native American market.”
The change also meant the removal of the memorial to Native Americans and Navajo Code Talkers that the project would have included.
For board members and members of the public who tuned into the meeting, the developer’s removal of Native American references was seen as a positive step, but not enough.
For example, the developers still had not conducted a cultural or archeological survey of the area as some members of the board had hoped, or spoken to leaders of nearby Navajo chapters.
And several supervisors said they were disappointed that after so many months, the developers still had not done much of the work the board had asked for.
Supervisor Judy Begay took issue with the way the developer planned to use Conestoga wagons as shelters that guests could stay in, a concern that was echoed by other members of the public as well.
“I also really detest the use of the wagons,” said one member of the public who tuned into the meeting. “For many Native Americans, there is nothing good or nostalgic about covered wagons or the land rush or the gold rush that decimated our communities.”
According to county staff, the developer did send letters asking for input on the project to the Navajo and Hopi nations and applicable Apache groups regarding the project.
The Fort Mojave Indian tribe responded that the project will not have an adverse effect on tribe’s cultural heritage. On the other hand, the Hopi Cultural Resource Office responded with a letter opposing the project.
Navajo Nation Councilmember Thomas Walker Jr. also sent a letter opposing the previous use of teepees within the project and spoke to the board Wednesday.
“The commercializing, stereotyping […] of Native cultures, the use of that in the project or their business enterprises, we were very much bothered by that and concerned,” Walker told the board. “This evening you are considering a different plan, but that doesn’t excuse the original plan, which we deemed as cultural appropriation.”
Public safety was also a concern for several supervisors.
In recent weeks, Winslow’s fire marshal announced that the department would not support the project by providing fire and emergency services. That would have left the developers filling that need with a combination of on-site facilities and services, and getting help from the nearby Twin Arrows Casino.
The project’s design also raised questions regarding fire access in the case of an emergency as it appeared there was only a single entrance and exit into the development.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.