Local News

Stilo Gets Its Way. Building Heights Increased To 65 Feet In Tusayan

April 23, 2017

 The maximum allowable heights for buildings in Tusayan has been increased to 65 feet from 45 feet. The increase is for the entire town, excluding some residential areas that are dominated by mobile homes.

Stilo, the Italian developer behind a massive development in Tusayan that includes three million square feet of commercial space and thousands of homes, asked the Tusayan Town Council to ‘consider’ the idea. The Mayor and all of the current members of the Council are employed by Stilo business partner Elling Halvorson.

Stilo’s request for the council to ‘consider’ this plan was in exchange for Stilo’s decision to speed up the process and give the Town 20 acres of land at 10-X for affordable housing. 

The decision drastically changes the town’s potential landscape so much so that the National Parks Service wrote a letter expressing concern. The letter stated in part, “The importance of sustainable building, water conservation, night sky protection and visitor use capacities are of critical importance as we move into the next century of park preservation and management and we value collaboration with the Town on its planning and zoning initiatives.”

The Park Service is worried that those tall building will cause light pollution and diminish views at the Canyon as well as placing additional strain on the Grand Canyon National Park’s resources.

Red Feather Properties Manager Clarinda Vail urged the Town Council to carefully consider the ramifications noting that this change would be permanent. The effect of having much taller buildings in Tusayan would increase density would block the wide open views Tusayan is known for.

Vail noted the increased heights also create potential water supply problems and create challenges for the Tusayan Fire District. There is also a potential threat to local aviation.

Mayor Craig Sanderson stands by this decision. He said, “Personally, I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Sanderson and others on the Council attribute this decision (in part) to a lack of affordable housing in Tusayan despite the fact that there are hundreds of acres of land that can be developed for housing.

Councilman David Chavez noted that views may not be impacted because many of the town’s ponderosa pines exceed 200 feet.

Councilman Al Montoya said he initially opposed the increase but reconsidered saying, “It’s an uphill battle getting anything done around here that’s going to accommodate not only the visitors but also the citizens of the community.”

It’s also worth mentioning that employers such as Red Feather and Canyon Plaza have constructed apartment style housing for employees and Elling Halvorson has not.

The Sierra Club is also opposed the height increase. Alicyn Gitlin, Grand Canyon Program Coordinator for Sierra Club said, “This is a huge decision. One that cannot be reversed and I really hope that you will take it very seriously and get all of the data that you need before deciding what to do.”  She also expressed concern about Tusayan’s limited water supply.

Montoya responded, “I don’t think there is anything we could ever say to satisfy Alicyn as far as information wise.”  He added, “As far as the water goes that’s not even our focus tonight it’s the height restrictions.”

Former Mayor Pete Shearer also weighed in against the new height limits especially concerning aviation safety. He said, "We need to look at the safety if we raise the height limit and there is an incident, what's it going to cost the town by creating an obstacle that's not there today. But more importantly, what's one life worth."

The Council approved the increased height. The vote was unanimous.