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Scale development to Flagstaff values

To the editor:

For many years I served as an adviser to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, advocating for our state’s historic buildings and districts, for walkable neighborhoods and for retaining community history, character and high quality of life. At the local level, I spent many years on both the Flagstaff Planning & Zoning Commission and the then Historic Sites Commission, advocating for the same things. We achieved many admirable things through the years, including the revitalization of the downtown (both north and south), the restoration of many historic properties, the downzoning of historic residential districts to preserve neighborhood character and the listing of many historic resources on the National Register of Historic Places.

The result of all these efforts was a Flagstaff that appealed to old and new residents as well as tourists and students, a community that became a rich tapestry of the old and new, residential and commercial, of beautiful viewsheds and of open spaces and almost unlimited recreational opportunities like the Urban Trail system.

It seems as if we are at a point where that carefully woven community fabric in unravelling. Several out-sized developments are challenging all of our community planning assumptions, threatening to wipe out entire neighborhoods, adding to traffic congestion, creating parking problems and forever charging the character of large areas of Flagstaff. It also seems to me that Northern Arizona University is the greatest agent of these negative changes. I appreciate that the university is bound to grow, and that the need for student housing will increase, but this growth should not come entirely at the expense of Flagstaff neighborhoods and quality of life.

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We must now plan for the impacts of university growth on the greater community and we must insist on development that is appropriate in scale. Infill, used properly, is a powerful tool to help prevent sprawl. Although it is not subject to city codes, NAU should feel an obligation and a responsibility to add its voice for reasonable infill projects consistent with our regional plan, our zoning codes and, above all, our values.

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Each year I do a presentation to the Flagstaff Leadership Program on our history, economic development and community character. These future leaders always seem to come away with a heightened appreciation for the unique and special nature of our community. I hope our current leaders will act to preserve and protect what have been, and are, the best aspects of Flagstaff.

JAMES E. BABBITT

Flagstaff

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