- Associated Press - Thursday, August 10, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - A small town at the edge of the Grand Canyon will have a special election in November to decide whether to increase the maximum building height in the city and pave the way for new retail and housing development in the community.

The town council in Tusayan voted unanimously Wednesday evening to settle the issue by mail ballot. The decision by the five councilmembers came months after it originally decided to raise maximum building heights in the town to 65 feet, but faced opposition from some residents.

Town manager Eric Duthie has said officials took action to try to increase heights because the U.S. Forest Service blocked the town’s application for a road easement in 2016. That decision meant developers couldn’t move forward with building a housing development, retail shops and hotels on the edge of town. It also kept Tusayan from proceeding with its plans for affordable housing, he said.

“We have no choice based on that situation but to grow vertically instead of horizontally so that’s why we considered a height adjustment,” Duthie said in June.

Critics say the building height increase would have serious effects on water usage, impact visitor capacity to Grand Canyon National Park and cause potential damaging consequences for the area’s dark skies conservation.

The National Park Service sent a letter to the town expressing those concerns, while environmentalists also remain steadfast any growth in Tusayan would mar the beauty of the area.

The upcoming referendum will follow the enduring pushback from a local political action committee that opposed the measure and submitted 27 petition signatures to force a public vote on the matter. That petition effort was led by Clarinda Vail, whose family was among the earliest settlers there and owns business and property in the town.

“I just don’t think there was enough discussion prior to the decision,” Vail said. She said it is important to consider the park service’s concerns and that being adjacent to the Grand Canyon means the town needs to meet a different type of environmental standard.

The town clerk and Coconino County officials initially rejected the petition after a random sample from the signatures did not pass muster. Vail’s sister-in-law’s signature was deemed invalid because it did not match her voter registration record at that time.

The committee fought the decision in court where a judge settled the dispute in a stipulated judgment after the signature proved to match a recent newly issued driver’s license.

“My standpoint is that I want to identify this as a champion of due process, this is the way the system should work quite frankly,” Duthie said during the council meeting. “If someone has a grievance there is a place for that and a process for that.”

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