GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Three years after the U.S. Forest Service returned a bid to develop several hundred acres of land near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, STILO developers and the town of Tusayan have submitted another application to the agency.
According to Andy Jacobs, spokesman for STILO, an Italian development company who has worked on development plans for the Grand Canyon region for several decades, the new proposal is asking for road easements leading to both the Kotzin Ranch and Ten X Ranch properties to allow for utilities and sewer lines. Both properties are located only a few miles from the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.
In 2016, Kaibab National Forest announced that the town's application for road easements across Forest Service land had been returned after four of nine criteria were not met in an initial screening process.
At that time, Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio said there was no way she could move forward with the application, much less the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Provencio said approving the easement would not have been in the public's interest and that a proposal must be rejected if the proposed use was not in the public's interest.
While STILO’s goal is still to develop a luxury resort property at the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, Jacobs said the developers have listened to concerns voiced by residents and environmental groups in the previous proposal and have made changes to the original plans.
“We have committed to using no local ground water for the commercial development,” Jacobs said, adding that for the foreseeable future, water would be trucked in.
“Longer term, we’re looking at options to allow the town to retire all of its groundwater wells,” he said. “These are longer-term issues that need to be studied, and STILO has been looking at a couple of options for the past several years.”
Jacobs said plans for the original development had evolved to accommodate other concerns voiced about the commercial density of the property.
“We’ve committed to reducing the density allowed under the zoning by 33 percent,” he said. “STILO still has the same purpose envisioned for the two properties, but the maximum densities that will be studied by the Forest Service will be a third less than the previous proposal.”
The new proposal includes the construction of just over 28,000 linear feet of main and access roads — about 52 acres of Forest Service land, most of which has been previously undisturbed. Although both private properties are currently accessible via maintained Forest Service roads, inclement weather conditions may close them at any time. Paving the roads allows for all-weather access, according to the proposal.
The property currently being developed by the town of Tusayan into affordable housing at Ten X Ranch is accessed via Forest Service Road 302, and Jacobs said the proposal is to pave the road and run utilities along it about three miles to the site. Utilities provided along the corridor would include water mains, both reclaimed and potable, sewer line, natural gas pipeline, electricity and telecommunications lines for internet service, cable television or landline phones.
Two similar access roads have been requested for both northern and southern access to the Kotzin Ranch property, each about 1.5 miles of paved, two-lane roads with water, electricity and telecommunication utility easements.
So what exactly does STILO envision?
According to a refurbished website, tusayansfuture.com, the new proposal doesn’t include several rumored projects, including a water park, roller coaster, Wal-Mart or a golf course. The website contends the property is not zoned for these types of activities and they were never planned in the first place.
What STILO does envision, however, is what Jacobs describes as a sort of cultural village for visitors at Kotzin and more neighborhood amenities at Ten X.
“Some of the commercial development that’s been of interest to Tusayan residents are churches, grocery stores, a laundromat, day care centers, that’s the kind of development we see at Ten X,” he said.
“Over at Kotzin, the vision that STILO has had for a long time is the idea of a cultural campus, where you could build different pavilions where visitors could come and experience different aspects on the science side of the region … the night sky, the geology, the hydrology, cultural resources, Native American stories all in one campus.”
Jacobs said the plan called for lodging options at both properties, with the proposal stating possibilities for Ten X that could include a resort hotel, conference center hotel, spa hotel or a dude ranch. He also said the developer hoped to move Camper Village, currently located in Tusayan, to Ten X as well.
What about Tusayan?
When Tusayan incorporated in 2010, town leadership was focused on better quality of life and services for residents,
according to Vice Mayor Brady Harris.
“We’re excited,” Harris said. “Our focus for all this is that we’re hoping to provide affordable housing for our residents, to give them … the opportunity to make choices not based on their employers, but by their own devices. If you want to get married or have a child or have a dog, you don’t have to ask for permission anymore.”
Housing in Tusayan is largely owned by companies that employ workers, and once an employee retires or no longer works in Tusayan, their options for housing become non-existent.
Harris said the town council is hoping to change that dynamic, allowing community members to choose where and how they want to live.
“We want our residents to have those basic freedoms that aren’t at the whims of their employers,” he said.
Although the town’s focus is currently on the already-underway development at Ten X, Harris said should the property at Kotzin become available, the town would apply the same affordable housing principles there as well. Harris also said the town hopes to integrate the housing not only into the Tusayan community, but Grand Canyon Village as well.
“We not only want to bring them into the community, we want to relieve some of that pressure on the National Park Service and entities inside the park of having to provide housing as well,” he said. “We’re hoping to create some long-term solutions and provide some stability in the area.”
Harris said he hopes to see the developments integrated into the area’s multi-modal transportation plan, too, with shuttle service extending to the residential areas to help residents move around the community as well as reducing the town’s carbon footprint from vehicle use.
Opponents of the project, however, are leery of what they consider a massive development a mere few miles from Grand Canyon National Park.
Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, recently stated the new proposal is essentially unchanged from the previous proposal, except for the plan to haul in water for the development via truck and what he refers to as a “nebulous and unenforceable 33 percent reduction in commercial development.”
In a letter to Forest Service officials, Silver wrote that neither concession is significant in terms of harm to Grand Canyon National Park.
“STILO will still be building more than 2,000 households and will still be developing massive commercial facilities,” he said. “With respect to groundwater pumping in an area where no more is available, the more than 2,000 households will still be using groundwater even if the commercial development is not (getting water) from the local area.”
Alicyn Gitlin of the Sierra Club, which has long opposed the development, said STILO’s latest proposal raises more questions than answers.
“This development is not in the public interest,” Gitlin said. “Grand Canyon's doorstep is the wrong place for a mega development. This enormous development will increase traffic, noise and trash issues, stress out park infrastructure, impact wildlife, add light pollution and make it harder to protect natural and cultural resources in the Forest and the National Park.
Gitlin also said STILO’s proposed plan to haul in water was wrought with difficulties.
Either they truck in water from another already stressed groundwater basin, or they bring it from the over allocated Colorado River,” she said. “Both plans raise safety and water security issues.”
The application for road easements submitted by the town of Tusayan and STILO is considered a draft proposal.
Kaibab National Forest spokeswoman Jackie Banks said the Forest Service will review the application to make sure it is in compliance with the agency’s policies and is consistent with existing special use screening criteria.
“We don’t know if this proposal will be accepted as a special use application,” Banks said. “However, if any such proposal passes initial and second-level screening criteria and is accepted by the Forest Service, it is then forwarded to the environmental review process.”
According to Banks, draft proposals are not subject to public comment, although if accepted, the following environmental review would allow ample opportunity for public comment and engagement.
Banks said she did not know the anticipated timeline for reviewing or returning the proposal.