Can You Trust Developers? A Guest Editorial from 20 Year Tusayan Resident Bill Fitzgerald

May 24, 2011

Many people have heard me rail against the actions of the developers and, by extension, the Town Council. What most people don’t know is that originally I was leaning towards incorporation. Leaving personalities aside, there were a couple of good reasons to incorporate. One was that incorporation would give us local control. It would let us break free from the apparent unconcern of the County bureaucracy. Second, without the umbrella of a “corporate entity” the little community of Tusayan could not engage in dealings with the Park Service, the State, or the Federal government. (The reason for the establishment of the Tusayan Water Association was to form an entity that might be able to get water from the Park). The leaders of the incorporation push maintained that we would not get what we wanted very soon, but incorporation was a start on the future. Then the forces came from the dark side.

A “public relations” firm was hired. A website was established. So called “news” videos were posted on the site. The videos were narrated by someone out of Phoenix, who tried to sound like he was one of us. Most of the videos were about demonizing the people who had lived here all of their lives. People who had spent years working, for free, on the most boring civic jobs. The establishment of a fire district, a water association, and a sanitary district took a lot of work. Sitting in on the board meetings month after month can be an exercise in masochism. A Design and Overlay Review took five years of public meetings to complete. The people who did this work year after year were locals, not some developer from Italy, Scottsdale, or Oregon. Tom Depaolo made a big mistake on his website when he tried to point out that certain people “controlled” this town because they were on so many boards. When I read what he said, I thought that, in any other setting, these people would be called community leaders.

In addition to a website, and a monthly newsletter, there were public meetings of the kind I called bread and circuses. Free dinners were held at the steakhouse. All the food and alcohol you wanted. I was asked by several people to attend. I’m glad I went. I saw the main push of the dinners was to get people to register to vote. And many did. It is only human psychology that the people who register at a “rah-rah-sis-boom-ba” type of event are the ones who agree with you and will vote for your agenda, even though they had no intention of registering before they attended the event. The question on the minds of many long term residents is where are these people today?

About twelve or thirteen years ago, I listened to Tom Depaolo talk about the advantages of developing Canyon Forest Village. He used the words…”could be, maybe, possibly”. Ten years later, I listened to Greg Bryan use the exact same words when trying to emphasize the advantages of another development. During another pre-incorporation meeting two years ago, I heard the same words again. I’m no dummy. I finally put it all together. The Stilo Group has never promised to build low-income housing. Their plan was to give the Town of Tusayan 40 acres (without the mule) and let the Town worry about the housing issue. But, in the hub-bub of bread and circuses and media hype, too many people got the impression that low-cost housing would come with incorporation and development. Now, they are learning different.

The developers held a public meeting in March, 2011 to ask for public input on their three developments: The Kotzin (Reed) Ranch , Camper Village, and Ten-X ranch. Drawings of the proposed developments were presented by a planning attorney. No input was given by the public and none was asked for by the speaker. Ginger Booth asked by how much Tusayan’s population would grow if and when the Kotzin property was built out. The speaker didn’t know. I asked how many units did they intend to build. The answer was that it was still being “conceptualized”. After ten years of planning it was still being conceptualized? What were they telling the people who would co-partner with them to build the units? What did they tell the County when they were trying to get a zoning change? More importantly, what are they telling the Town council? The words maybe, could be, possibly, and conceptualize do not engender a warm fuzzy feeling in me when dealing with developers. What are they still not telling us after all these years?

When I asked about how they were going to supply water to their developments, I was told that they would either buy water from someone, get a letter of commitment from the town, or find another source. How vague is that? Buying water from someone means hauling it in by truck, and anyone in their right mind knows that will not work in the long run. Finding another source means they would have to drill a well(s). Getting a letter of commitment from the town means that the Town of Tusayan would guarantee to the State that there is an adequate water supply for the development.

Tusayan would then be saddled with the cost of developing an adequate water supply. Your tax dollars at work. Is it any coincidence that the Mayor would like to buy an aging water system from one of the developers and create a Tusayan Water Utility? I believe a municipal water utility is important for the future of Tusayan. But if this issue is more than just a corporate giveaway, why not wait for a couple of years and see how the developers are going to supply water without sticking it to the tax payers?

The bottom line is that the Stilo Group is developers who want to make a lot of money for themselves. I have no problem with that. But to do it, they messed with lives, reputations and the future of a community; not because they care about us, but because of greed. And that is why I voted against incorporation and the makeup of the current Town Council.