Flagstaff voters may again be asked to weigh the two values of open space and workforce housing as a group hopes to put a measure on the ballot that would designate a city-owned parcel near Schultz Pass as open space.
The 3-acre parcel, at the intersection of Schultz Pass Road and Fort Valley Road, was embroiled in a similar controversy only two years ago when Flagstaff City Council proposed the development of workforce housing on the land.
The land was bought by the city in 2005 specifically for the purpose of affordable housing by a developer who was building sections of the Cheshire Neighborhood. Later, the city spent $500,000 out of the affordable housing fund connecting the land to utilities in preparation of developing the property.
But when the site proved controversial, Council dropped the Schultz Pass parcel to allow for other affordable housing projects to move forward.
Recently, pushed by Mayor Coral Evans, there has been a renewed interest in the future of that land, and Council is set to take up the topic on Tuesday, March 12.
That renewed interest is exactly what spurred a number of Flagstaff residents to form the political action committee Save Schultz Meadow, said group member Bob White.
That group, which filed with the city on March 4, is now gathering signatures to put a question on the ballot asking voters if they want to permanently designate the land as open space, White said.
To get the question on the ballot, the group will have to get just over 4,000 signatures, but White said they are shooting to get about 6,000 with the expectation that some may be deemed invalid.
Evans said she welcomed the possibility of a voter initiative on the subject and understands the value of preserving open space, but said she hopes that people can see a future for affordable housing on the land.
“I do believe that we as a community need to take a step back and look at this through a different lens. We are 6,000 housing units short,” Evans said referencing a study by the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona that addressed why Flagstaff was so expensive.
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Evans said what she hopes to build on the land isn’t some large development, but the affordable housing needed by police officers, teachers and everyday people who can’t find housing they can afford.
“A beginning firefighter can’t afford to live here, so we had to change our policy to allow firefighters to live outside city limits and drive into work. That’s not right,” Evans said, comparing the situation to that of Aspen, Colorado.
White said when it comes to the Schultz Pass property, they do not believe affordable housing is the issue; they oppose the development of the land generally.
“We want to make it clear that this initiative is not about affordable housing, it’s about open space,” White said.
Evans also wished the voter initiative that was drawn up included some way to replace the $500,000 the city spent out of the affordable housing fund so that if it makes it to the ballot and passes, the money is not wasted.
But White took a different view of the taxpayer money the city spent preparing the parcel for housing.
With a voter initiative, the same people who paid for those improvements can decide whether or not to make it open space, White said, adding, “people's priorities may have changed.”
White said members of Save Schultz Meadow plan to attend the council meeting and “implore Council to respect the voter initiative process.”
White said he doesn’t see any need to rush such a decision, but if Council wants to, the committee would welcome a special election on the subject should it receive the signatures needed.