This photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017 urges people to vote against a building height increases in Tusayan, Arizona. A vote in favor would pave the way for development at an RV park in town. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)

Developers denied height near Grand Canyon but not deterred

November 08, 2017 - 6:58 pm

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Residents of a small town outside the Grand Canyon's South Rim have rejected a building height increase, but it won't stop developers from pursuing an expanse of retail shops, open space and lodging at the edge of town.

Voters in Tusayan turned down a ballot measure Tuesday to allow buildings up to 65 feet (20 meters). Of the 131 people who cast ballots, 60 supported the measure and 71 opposed it.

The result was a blow to Italy-based Stilo Development Group USA, a major landowner that has eyed development in town since the late 1980s. Now, it must work within existing height guidelines. Stilo will submit building plans to town officials within the next several months, said Andy Jacobs, a company spokesman.

"What we heard from voters, and we did a lot of outreach, especially in the last couple of weeks, is they still support new opportunities, particularly housing in town," he said Wednesday. "They just weren't sure the height limit was the right way to go about it."

Opponents have said taller buildings and the scale of development don't fit a town that relies on millions of Grand Canyon tourists each year. They say Tusayan should support, not detract from the national park and were worried about effects to water, traffic and the skyline.

"I'm just really happy that it seems like the Tusayan residents care more about the Grand Canyon than fulfilling every want of the Italian developers via the Town Council," said Clarinda Vail, whose family settled the area in the 1930s.

The election was the first using all mail-in ballots in the town that incorporated in 2010.

Stilo pushed the measure after the U.S. Forest Service denied access for development on two of its properties that are tucked into federal land. It has since hired a law firm and asked Arizona's senators for help.

The company then sought to build taller buildings on an RV park it co-owns with another major landowner, Elling Halvorson. It approached the Town Council, which passed an ordinance. Vail challenged it, leading to the vote.

Asking voters to reconsider building heights is unlikely, Jacobs said, but he didn't completely rule it out.

"I think obviously the investors and the proponents will have to sit down and figure out exactly what they want to do and make a decision at a later date," he said. "I don't think we know all the answers at this point."

Before the vote, signs had gone up around town urging voters to say yes to higher buildings to bring jobs, independence and housing to the community of about 550 people. Other signs asked voters to reject the measure to protect the Grand Canyon.

Vail said she will remain vigilant of future plans.

"I have quit guessing what these people will do," she said. "I will deal with it as it comes."

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