As planners envision it, the new Deep Well Ranch master plan would have a level of regulatory flexibility that they say would allow for a cohesive community.
But members of the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission balked at the requested flexibility at times this week, worrying that the master plan would give the new 1,800-acre project in northeast Prescott too much autonomy from the city.
Commissioners conducted the first of four planned reviews of the proposed Deep Well Ranch Master Plan on Thursday, Aug. 10 — with mixed reviews.
Commissioner Ken Mabarak voiced concerns, for instance, that the project’s urban areas, some of which would allow buildings of as high as 150 feet (about 14 stories), would be at odds with its surroundings.
“It’s called the Deep Well Ranch, but the designs we’re seeing so far are anything but a ranch,” Mabarak said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of angst.”
Consultant Trevor Barger of the Espiritu Loci firm said developers hope that the Deep Well project would evolve in a way similar to Prescott’s current “great juxtaposition of very urban (such as the historic downtown), and very rural.”
This week’s meeting was intended as a general introduction to the master plan and its proposed regulatory framework. Developers are seeking Specially Planned Community (SPC) zoning, which the city says “allows the developer and the city great flexibility in the design of projects.”
Still, it was with the developers’ wishes to create “general development standards” that would take the place of the city’s Land Development Code that commissioners had the most concerns.
The most debate occurred over a paragraph in the master plan’s regulatory framework section, which stated: “The General Development Standards set forth in this master plan replace all city rules, regulations, policies, development standards and design guidelines (as well as any future modifications or new city rules, regulations policies, development standards) contained in the code, the city’s engineering standards, or other city rules, regulations, standards, or policies.”
Commissioners and audience members alike took exception with the wording.
Commission Chairman Tom Menser maintained that the project could be developed “under the framework we already have in the city,” and he suggested developers “rethink” the proposed waiver of codes and regulations.
Added Commissioner Joe Gardner: “I think it’s in your best interest to completely rewrite that paragraph.”
While noting that the James family – owners of the Deep Well – “have good intentions,” Gardner said, “Pieces of this are going to be developed by different people. What if we get a developer who’s a crook? It happens.”
After the meeting, Barger said he plans to rework the section, but he maintains it was never intended to completely override city codes. Rather, he said, “Only the parts that are changed in the master plan would supersede the parts in the existing code; what we don’t change in the master plan, all the city standards would apply.”
He added: “It’s what we intended, but it didn’t quite come across that way.”
Barger says the SPC zoning would give planners the ability to take a broader look at the project – with open areas, civic facilities, and residential subdivisions all planned in relation to one another.
“The city’s rules tend to be fairly disjointed,” he said. For instance, the city’s Planned Area Development (PAD) designation allows for flexibility within specific subdivisions, Barger said, while the SPC zoning would allow planners to look ahead to placement of the various subdivisions and other components.
The master plan states: “(The SPC zoning) promotes development of self-contained villages and more economical and efficient use of the land with a harmonious variety of housing choices, higher level of recreational amenities and facilities, as well as appropriate civic and business areas, while preserving natural qualities of open spaces.”
Several audience members voiced opposition to the developers’ plans for a commercial center at the corner of Willow Creek Road and Pioneer Parkway, with one Pinon Oaks resident telling Barger, “We are concerned about looking at 150-foot-high buildings, I’m sorry.”
Prescott Planning Manager George Worley emphasized that the commission would have plenty of time to review the master plan.
Four P&Z discussions are scheduled throughout the month (Aug. 10, 17, 24 and 31) – “an attempt to break this down into smaller bites,” Worley said.
He added that the primary task of the commission is to vet the master plan’s proposals, and said, “We’re not going to rush you through that.”
A Planning and Zoning Commission vote could occur on Aug. 31, Worley said, but the commission also could opt to ask for more discussion.
Ultimately, the commission will make a recommendation to the City Council, which will make the final decision on the master plan.
The project is planned on a portion of Deep Well Ranch land between Prescott and Chino Valley. Developers say the project could bring as many as 10,000 new homes to the area over the next four decades. The plan includes a mixture of single-family, multi-family, business and light industrial uses.