|Is new Catholic Church and School
Proposed for McMillan Mesa a Good Idea?
Page by Dan Frazier|
How to Get Involved
Get informed. The information on this page is a good place to start. Contact city officials and church leaders with your concerns. See below for details and contact information.
On Nov. 17, 2009, the Flagstaff City Council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of 28 acres of property belonging to the San Francisco de Asis parish on McMillan Mesa.
At the same meeting, the Council voted unanimously to approve a related Development Agreement that includes a complicated land swap. The Development Agreement involves the City, the parish, and three other parties and will allow for the construction of about 700 feet of new roadway (Ponderosa Parkway) extending north from the intersection of Enterprise and Route 66. The road will provide access to a new City fire station and access to a driveway leading to the rezoned property where a large church and school are to be built.
The Development Agreement was approved by council first. Before the rezoning was voted on, I (Dan Frazier) went to the podium and asked Vince Knaggs of the city's planning department about public notice related to the land swap. A.R.S. 9-407 requires that a city publish a notice in the newspaper before exchanging land. I asked if the city had met this requirement, or if it had not, how it planned to meet this requirement.
Knaggs referred the question to a staff attorney (Harry?) who said the answer was "detailed." He recommended that the council move into Executive Session in order to get the answer. Executive Session allows council to discuss legal matters in private. Council went upstairs for ten minutes with the attorneys.
When the council returned Mayor Sara Presler told me that the council would take my question "under advisement" but apparently she did not feel she could answer my question, and she did not answer it.
I then read this statement to Council:
Good evening my name is Dan Frazier, P.O. Box Flagstaff, AZ 86002. I am opposed to this rezoning. I have indicated previously that the public notification process related to this rezoning fell short of what was required by law.
I have been researching the legal precedents for a lawsuit. I refer you to the case of Specht vs. the City of Page from 1979 in which published notices were found to be inadequate because they did not allow, quote, "any person, by the exercise of reasonable diligence, to determine if his property would be affected and to what extent," unquote. The zoning ordinance was thus invalidated. That case, and its 1981 appeal, which affirmed the lower court's decision, took years to make its way through the courts.
With regard to the rezoning ordinance before you, I ask how any ordinary person could determine if his property would be affected, and to what extent, when published notices understated the size of the building project by a factor of 10, and when the notices posted on site did not even mention that buildings or roads would be a likely consequence of the rezoning, let alone include a map showing the locations of proposed buildings and roads?
I don't want a lawsuit. You don’t want a lawsuit. It is still possible to avoid a lawsuit. All I am asking is that the public notification process be repeated, with corrected public notices and new public hearings.
However, failing that, I am prepared to bring a lawsuit against the City of
Unfortunately, I have had difficulty finding an attorney willing and able to take this case. If there are any attorneys following these proceedings who might like to assist me in this matter, I hope they will contact me. Otherwise, I may have to represent myself in court.
You may wonder if I am capable of representing myself in a case like this. To put your minds at ease, I would like to distribute to you a draft copy of my lawsuit. This is a rather crude slap-dash effort that I started working on just yesterday. But I think it might help to get across the point that I am serious.
Even if you pass this ordinance tonight, it might be possible to avoid a lawsuit through mediation or some form of alternative dispute resolution. I am going to wait at least until the end of the month to give you a chance to respond before filing my lawsuit.
The question is not, am I really going to file a lawsuit? The question is, are you really going to pass this ordinance despite the significant shortcomings of the public notification process? The question is, are you going to do what you know is the right thing to do?
Or consider making a purchase from one of our target="_blank" href="http://lifeweaver.com/">Web sites.
Contact the Flagstaff City Council with your concerns about the project.
211 W. Aspen Ave.
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
Contact Father Mowrer at The San Francisco de Asis Parish with your concerns about the project.
2257 E. Cedar Ave.
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
Contact John Minieri,
Director of Buildings & Properties, Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix
Ph. (602) 354-2161 ext. 2161
Let your friends and neighbors know what is going on so that they can get involved.
Contact us with your questions and suggestions:
Dan (at) CarryaBigSticker (dot) com
Lisa (at) LisaRayner (dot) com
Above: An artists rendering of the proposed church and school as seen looking north.
Above: McMillan Mesa as seen from Enterprise and Route 66.
Click images to enlarge.
Above: Ponderosa Parkway is planned to extend north from Enterprise and Route 66 (behind red pickup truck).
Above: Frame-grab from video shot above top of Ponderosa Tree at site of proposed school. Shows view to south-west. Camera is at 53-feet. School will be 57-feet tall. Roof will be visible from nearby Ponderosa Parks Apartments and certain points in Ponderosa neighborhood. Also, roof will be visible from certain points near the Skydome. For view to south, scroll down to image in center column or use this link.
Above: Frame-grab from video shot above top of Ponderosa Tree at site of proposed school. Shows view to south-east. Camera is at 53-feet. School will be 57-feet tall. Shows property owned by church. Notice meadow in center of frame. If church and school was built there instead, or in the forested area beyond, the project would be considerably farther from FUTS trail. For view to south, scroll down to image in center column or use this link.
Above: Frame-grab from video shot above top of Ponderosa Tree at site of proposed school. Shows view to east. Camera is at 53-feet. School will be 57-feet tall. Roof will be visible from certain points near the Purina plant and other points in east Flagstaff such as the Country Club overpass.
Above: Frame-grab from video shot above top of Ponderosa Tree at site of proposed school. Shows view to north. Camera is at 53-feet. School will be 57-feet tall. Roof will be visible from certain points along the FUTS trail (Gray strip cutting across frame from left to right). Also look for popular informal trail (brown) that extends diagonally toward lower right corner of frame from FUTS trail. This informal trail loops through church property.
Frame-grab from video shot above top of Ponderosa Tree at site of proposed school. Shows view to west. Camera is at 53-feet. School will be 57-feet tall. Roof will be visible from certain points near the hospital and from certain properties on nearby Hemlock Way as well as from the Ponderosa Parks Apartments.
Above: Water tank near entrance to Buffalo Park. New school will be 10 to 15 feet taller than this water tank.
Above: 19-foot ladder positioned on site of proposed school helps to illustrate great height of school.
Above: Tiny speck in the sky near center of the frame is a bunch of helium balloons tethered to a string at the proposed school site. Height of balloons is probably about 57-feet. The string was actually about 20 feet longer to compensate for the breeze and the consequent angle of the string. Photo was taken from the east edge of the mesa, several hundred yards north of the proposed school site.
Above: Rezoning signs posted on a fence along Route 66 near Enterprise. Small signs are set back far from road and partly obscured by trees.
Below: Rezoning signs posted on a fence along Route 66 say nothing about a church or school, or Ponderosa Parkway. There is no indication of any proposed development. The address shown suggests development, if any, will be along Route 66.
Most Flagstaff residents do not realize that the Catholic Church owns 107 acres of undeveloped land on McMillan Mesa -- enough land to recreate Vatican City. San Francisco de Asis parish has plans to develop 28 acres of this property starting in the spring, beginning with a new 57-foot tall school. A church that will seat 1,500 people is also planned, along with 375 parking spaces. The two-story school is three or four times as large as the church and will be 10 to15 feet taller than the existing water tank near the entrance to Buffalo Park.
This development is planned for the last unspoiled area of the southern mesa, with the parking lot just 25 feet from a beautiful stretch of the Arizona Trail. The buildings are to be built in a meadow about half a mile north of Route 66.
In order for this project to move forward as proposed, the property must be rezoned from Rural Residential to High-Density Residential (to allow for the 57-foot-tall school). The Planning & Zoning Commission has recommended that City Council approve this rezoning for 28 acres, though the church, school and parking lot occupy less than 14 acres according to maps.
City Council is expected to have a second reading of the rezoning ordinance at its Nov. 17, 2009 meeting followed by a vote. (See details at left.) As someone who loves McMillan Mesa, I oppose this project, especially if it is to be built so close to the Arizona Trail. I urge concerned residents to contact the Council with their concerns. At the very least, the zoning decision should be delayed to allow for more public input.
Above info adapted from a Letter to the Editor by Dan Frazier, Sept. 4, 2009
Click images to enlarge.
Is Catholic Church and School on McMillan Mesa a Good Idea? By Dan Frazier Posted 9/23/09
The story below was written for The Noise, a monthly Flagstaff newspaper. A version of the story was published on or about Sept. 25, 2009. The version below includes some updated information. When I agreed to write the story, I agreed to try to make it as fair and balanced as I could.
Along with a few other residents, I have been working hard to either stop or modify the proposed church and school project on the mesa. I have even threatened to bring a lawsuit against the city because of what I believe to be its failure to provide proper public notification regarding the proposed development.
The 107-acre parcel owned by the San Francisco de
Asis parish is located a mile south of
The area where it hopes to build is as beautiful as
To get to the proposed building site, take
The proposed church and school project is unrelated to the new roads that were recently constructed on the mesa. In fact, the proposed site of the church and school is at least a third of a mile from these new roads. The new roads are meant to support a new subdivision located west of the church and school site.
You may recall the 2004 bond measure that would have authorized the city to spend $10 million to purchase open space on McMillan Mesa. Only 43 percent of voters favored that measure, and as a result we are now seeing new roads on the mesa. But the church-owned property was not part of that bond effort. So far, neither the city nor the voters have tried to purchase the 107 acres owned by the church. The church purchased its property for $2.5 million in 2003.
Construction of the proposed church and school has yet to begin, despite an official ground-breaking ceremony last year. The church hopes to start construction in the spring of 2010.
The parish has plans to build its new school first, followed by a church. The school will have several classrooms and a large gymnasium that will double as a sanctuary until the church is completed. The two-story school will be 57-feet tall, making it 10 to 15 feet taller than the large water tank near the entrance to Buffalo Park. It will be the tallest building on the mesa and twice as tall as many other two-story buildings.
Recently I climbed a Ponderosa tree near the site
of the proposed school. I brought with me a video camera on a pole. By
extending my pole above the top of the tree, I was able to get a
of the views from 53-feet above the site of the school.
The video shows that the roof of the school will be easily visible from
various points in east and west Flagstaff. The roof will
be most noticeable in the area of
There seem to be three reasons for the extraordinary height of the school: The first is that it will contain a large gymnasium, with classrooms above the gymnasium. The second reason is that plans call for the school to make use of solar panels for electricity and water heating. By making the building tall, the solar panels will get more sun. Finally, by building up, rather than out, the parish hopes to minimize its footprint on the landscape.
The parish says it is planning to incorporate a number of green building elements such as natural ventilation, rainwater retention for irrigation, and better insulated walls and ceilings. Current plans call for LEED Platinum certified construction, the most demanding and respected green-building certification. However, during the Sept. 15 public hearing before the City Council, Terrence Milligan, the project manager, was asked by Councilman Al White if the church would be comfortable making these green building goals a condition of the rezoning.
"I'm comfortable with those goals as a statement," said Milligan. "But to tie us in financially, that we must do this, this, this and this, I don't know that I'm comfortable with that right now until I receive all the information and the costs associated with it."
As project manager, Milligan is the most visible
advocate for the school and church project.
He is a Catholic businessman and
parish volunteer. In 2008 he ran for County Supervisor against Carl Taylor and lost in a landslide. His platform included
supporting snowmaking at Snowbowl, and transporting skiers from
The church, at 21,350 square feet, will have one-third the square footage of the school. The church is designed to seat 1,500. Drawings do not specify the height of the church, but with no gymnasium, no second floor, and no solar panels evident in drawings, it seems likely that the roof of the church will not be as high as that of the school, though the 15- to 20-foot steeple may make the church almost as tall as the school.
Plans call for the church and school to be positioned side by side about 300 feet south of the FUTS trail, with their largest facets facing the trail. Parking lots are planned both north and south of the buildings, which together will accommodate 375 vehicles. The north parking lot will approach within 25 feet of the FUTS trail and will extend alongside the trail for a distance of 400 feet.
The development will also include two large playing fields. Both fields will double as water run-off detention basins. One of the fields will be built within 50 feet of the FUTS trail.
The proximity of the project to the trail has caused concern. Church members have said that the project was originally proposed for a site much farther south, out of site of the trail. But during the review process, City staff expressed concern about the visibility of buildings from Route 66 and other points south of the mesa.Lisa Rayner, a critic of the project (and my wife), spoke in favor of protecting the view shed from the FUTS trail at the Sept. 15
Milligan noted that the church had agreed to grant
the city an easement for a new section of FUTS /
Milligan listed the fire station as a benefit to the city as part of his Sept. 15 presentation to Council about the church building project. On maps, this future fire station property is labeled "Nemec." Mrs. Laurie Nemec was repeatedly mentioned at the Sept. 15 City Council meeting. A July 9, 2008 Staff Summary Report from Vince Knaggs in the city's Community Development Department indicates discussions about a land swap between the church, Nemec, and the city have been going on to allow for the construction of the parkway and the fire station. Knaggs told me recently that negotiations with Mrs. Nemec are ongoing. He was not at liberty to provide details.At the Sept. 15 meeting, Paul Grasser, acting as spokesperson for Mrs. Nemec, told the Council, "Obviously, the church is the one who is the main catalyst to the improvements to
The San Francisco de Asis parish currently meets at
St. Pius on
One of the few to question the need for a new
church is Michael Egan, a Catholic who has long cherished
Built in 1956, St. Mary's school is even older than
St. Pius. The school is located north of Cherry in downtown
The 107-acres that the church owns is zoned Rural Residential (RR) which typically translates into widely spaced single-family homes. However, the Regional Plan designates the 28 flattest acres as recommended for rezoning to Medium Density Residential (MR), a higher density zone that allows more closely spaced housing and apartments. Meanwhile, the church is asking that these 28 acres be rezoned to High Density Residential (HR), which allows even higher density development.
Despite the request for HR zoning, the church insists its plans for the mesa are limited. Milligan said at the Sept. 15 Council meeting, "We're not planning on building apartment buildings on the mesa. We're only planning on building the church, the school, and related ancillary buildings." Milligan later added that the ancillary buildings might include a rectory for Father Patrick Mowrer, and possibly a convent.
So if the church has no plans for high-density development, why is it asking for HR zoning? The answer, it seems, has to do with the height of the school. Only HR zoning will allow for a 57-foot high school. But why rezone 28 acres if the school and church project only covers 14 acres? The church says it is following the advice of city staff. But comments made by City Council members suggest Council is likely to only vote to rezone the 14-acre footprint of the project to HR. Otherwise, the church might be able to sell off 14-acres of its rezoned property to a developer who could then build apartments on the southern half of the 28-acre parcel.
You may wonder why you have not heard the details
of this project until now. After all, isn't there supposed to be a
public notification process? The answer is yes, both
As I told City Council on Sept. 15, "A similar
notice appeared in the Arizona
Daily Sun, but only once, five weeks ago, when it was buried in the
sports section. …The notice says, 'The development will include
structures totaling approximately 63,300 square feet in floor area,
parking areas, and related amenities.' That's wrong. The actual square
footage relating to the development is perhaps 10 times higher than what
is stated in the notice." The 63,000 square-feet figure refers only to
the school, and omits the church, parking areas, and playing fields --
14 acres altogether, not counting the extension of
Because of the square-footage discrepancy, Jim Cronk from the City's Planning and Zoning department recommended to Council on Sept. 15 that the public notification process be repeated. This would mean publishing a corrected ad in the Sun, posting new notices around town, and holding additional public hearings before Planning and Zoning and City Council. Cronk said that repeating the notification process would add about 30 days to the rezoning process. Cronk said that this would improve transparency, and help avoid the possibility of a lawsuit, even though Cronk said he felt the city had met the minimum legal requirements for notification.
Members of the church who spoke at the meeting expressed surprise at Cronk's recommendation and were unanimous in asking Council not to delay their project, which has endured numerous delays already. "This delay will impact us greatly," said Milligan, "not just construction … We're talking about impacting our hearts. We have been caught with technicality after technicality."
Milligan also took issue with any shortcomings in the notification process. "This nonsense that the public has not been aware of what's been going on is just that -- nonsense," said Milligan. "There has been over 100 articles in the local paper since 2004 indicating what our intentions were. We went above and beyond in the public participation process."
The assertion that there have been more than 100 articles about the proposed church and school in the Sun does not stand up to scrutiny. There have been at most a handful of articles in the Sun focused on the proposed church and school, and they have all been riddled with serious errors and omissions. (I was recently banned from posting comments on the Sun Web site related to the church building project after trying to post corrections to one such story. Editor Randy Wilson told me to post my corrections on my own blog.) There has never been a site plan published in the Sun that showed the position of the church and school in relation to the FUTS trail.
Milligan himself has contributed to the shortcomings of the public notification process. For instance, a June 26 letter that Milligan sent to neighbors of the church property to invite them to a public meeting about the proposed church and school did not attempt to describe the location or size of the project. The letter makes no mention of the need for rezoning.
You might think that because of the shortcomings in
the public notification process, the Sept. 15
But Vince Knaggs of the Planning and Zoning Department gave only a five-minute PowerPoint presentation about the rezoning and building project. Knaggs did not include many of the key facts related to the project, such as the size of the parking lot, the height of the school, the reason the project was located so close to the trail, or the capacity of the church. A slide listing eight conditions of rezoning recommended by Planning and Zoning appeared on screen for only a few seconds and Knaggs made no attempt to read the list.
It is these kinds of serious problems with the
public notification process that have me thinking about bringing a
lawsuit against the City, and possibly against the church. On Sept. 15,
I told the Council, "As you may know, I have sued the state of
Despite the threat of a lawsuit, the City Council decided to move forward with the rezoning process. The Flagstaff City Council had its first reading of the rezoning ordinance on Oct. 6. The Council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning. The second reading, and the final vote on the rezoning, is now tentatively scheduled for Nov. 17, 2009. There will also be a vote on the development agreement between the church and the City at the Nov. 17 Council meeting. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and will offer an opportunity for public comment.
Milligan seems willing to risk a lawsuit. In mid-September, talking to a TV reporter about the possibility of a legal battle, he said, "Bring it on!"
Dan Frazier lives near McMillan Mesa in
Lisa Rayner's letter to Father Patrick Mowrer regarding the proposed
church and school proposed by the San Francisco de Asis parish:
It is ironic, to say the least, that San Francisco de Asís Parish wants to build a megachurch in the middle of the last large undeveloped section of McMillan Mesa. I have been actively working to preserve the
I was deeply saddened to hear several church members speak at the Aug. 26 City Planning & Zoning Commission meeting about how the new church would express their so-called “environmental values.” Justifying the siting of the complex as a way to honor a man who gave away all his Earthly possessions, spoke to animals and spent much of his time meditating in nature is ethically disturbing. I do not think that Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals, nature and environmentalism, would approve of this development being built in his name. Just because you may believe that the site design is environmentally sustainable does not make it so. Only the land itself can provide the necessary feedback about whether human actions hurt or help the Earth and its creatures. Would Saint Francis support kicking animals out of their homes and making it more difficult for them to access water sources?
I was raised Roman Catholic in northern
The first principle of sustainable design is to *never* place a new building in the center of an undisturbed natural area, fragmenting it. Instead, buildings should be located in already-disturbed areas whenever possible. The Flagstaff Aquaplex is a good example of this principle in action. The first suggested location for the Aquaplex was on the northeast corner of
Your proposed church-school-parking complex would cause riparian disturbance, fragment wildlife habitat, and create an eyesore for the public hiking on public land. You plan to irrigate grass fields with potable groundwater, and force parishioners and school children to drive up the
Are you aware that we are currently experiencing the 6th great mass extinction in Earth’s history and that it is human-caused? What is the parish doing to stop this holocaust? What is the parish doing to reverse fossil-fuel-caused climate change? I’m not talking about recycling and CFC light bulbs. I’m talking about walking the talk in a real way and changing our lifestyles to stop using fossil fuels, depleting groundwater and fisheries, eroding topsoil, shrinking forests. Now, not maybe 20 years from now if we feel like it. Where is the concern for future generations of humans and other species?
If the parish really wants to express “environmental values,” you would instead redevelop your
I will let other environmentalists in Flagstaff know about this terrible plan and will attend the Flagstaff City Council Public Hearing Sept. 15, 2009, at 5:30 p.m., city council chambers.
What would Saint Francis do?
Above: Drawings of school. Click image for larger PDF document with other views.
Who set up this Web page?
Flagstaff resident Dan Frazier set up this site with some material written by his wife Lisa Rayner. Frazier is the owner of CarryaBigSticker.com, which is why this page is linked to that site.
What is your goal?
We would like to see no more development on McMillan Mesa. Ideally, the proposed church and school would not be built at the proposed location on McMillan Mesa and the proposed extension of Ponderosa Parkway would never be built. We would prefer to see the church and school built elsewhere, perhaps by redeveloping older church or school sites that might otherwise stand vacant for years. These locations have the added benefit of being near populated areas and transportation corridors so that residents can walk or take the bus to reach them.
However, if the church and school are to be built on the mesa, we would like to see the development moved away from the Arizona (FUTS) trail and closer to Route 66. This will reduce visibility from the trail, and potentially make the development more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists on Route 66. We would also like to see the height of the school reduced. At the currently proposed 57 feet, the school will likely be the tallest structure on the Mesa, visible for miles around. It will be nearly twice as tall as many other two-story buildings.
Finally, we would like to see the rezoning, if it happens, be limited to the footprint of the church and school development. It is not yet clear what the church will do with the other 14 acres or so of the 28 acres that is up for rezoning. That portion of the property should not be considered for rezoning until the church provides a clear plan for that portion.
I thought the church construction had already started?
The San Francisco de Asis Parish has been planning its new church and school for years, and had hoped to begin building by now. However, no construction has happened yet. The construction that has recently been going on up on the mesa has been confined to other property on the west side of mesa, at least half a mile from the proposed site of the church and school. The recent construction involved new roads and utility lines -- infrastructure for a residential development. The infrastructure is complete, but the building of new residential units has yet to begin. So far as we are aware, this infrastructure is not on church property and has nothing to do with the proposed church and school.
Are you motivated by anti-Catholic sentiment?
No. It is true that we are atheists and have serious reservations about most religions, including Catholicism. On the other hand, we would be strongly opposed to any kind of development, especially a project of this scale, at the proposed location. We know that there are Catholics who oppose this project as currently proposed, and we hope to work with them.
If the City Council approves the rezoning, does that mean the church and school will be built?
No. The project will move to the next procedural phase, which will involve getting a Conditional Use Permit to allow a church and a school in a High Density Residential zone. There will be additional opportunities for public comment.
Why did Planning and Zoning recommend rezoning?
We are still a little puzzled about this. Each commissioner would probably give a slightly different reason for their decision. One of the seven commissioners, Paul Moore, did vote against rezoning, possibly because of lingering questions about the height of the school, and perhaps also about the steep slope it is to be built on. Commissioners' decisions are often dictated by land use guidelines set forth in the Regional Plan and the Land Development Code.
Why haven't I heard about this until now?
You're probably not a church-going Catholic. The church was only required to notify neighbors within 300 feet of their mesa property of their plans. Because of the controversial nature of the proposed development, we believe the church has been cautious about publicizing their plans, only doing the minimum publicity required by law. Letters from church representatives to neighbors, as well as public notices we have seen regarding the proposed rezoning and public hearings have been vague, often leaving out important information, like the nature or location of the proposed development, or the fact that any development is planned for the area to be rezoned.
Didn't Flagstaff voters vote to develop the mesa?
No. In May of 2004, after a deceptive campaign, 57 percent of Flagstaff voters rejected a propsed $10 million bond initiative that could have enabled the city to purchase a portion of the mesa and protect it from development. The portion that would have been protected is not the same as the 28-acre portion proposed for rezoning now. The portion the bond would have protected is on the western end of the mesa and this area was the site of recent road and infrastructure construction.
Though voters rejected the bond measure, 43 percent of voters voted for the measure, showing that thousands of Flagstaff voters understood the importance of protecting the mesa from development.
What is the difference between the FUTS trail and the Arizona trail?
The Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS) is a system of urban trails in and around Flagstaff designed to allow easy pedestrian and bicycle access to different neighborhoods. The Arizona Trail is a hiking trail that traverses the length of Arizona from north to south. In Flagstaff, the Arizona Trail overlaps and makes use of the existing FUTS system. Some sections of the Arizona Trail have yet to be completed, including one section that could be built alongside the proposed extension of Ponderosa Parkway.
Frame-grab from video taken from top of tree shows view looking south from 53-feet. School roof will be 57 feet. Notice that roof will be clearly visible from the area of Enterprise. Click to enlarge.
Dan Frazier's letter to City Council dated Sept. 10, 2009:
As you may
know, I have concerns about the proposed rezoning of 28 acres on
McMillan Mesa for the benefit of a proposed church and school
development. I would summarize my concerns as follows:
The proposed church and school should not be built at the proposed site. The location is too close to a beautiful section of the FUTS/Arizona Trail. Also, the location is too far from transportation corridors and populated areas meaning that few if any people will be able to walk to the church and school. If the church and school are to be built on the mesa, they should be moved south -- as close as possible to Route 66 -- and as far as possible from the existing trail. It would be better if the church and school were not built on the mesa at all.
Also, the proposed school is too tall. At 57 feet, it will stand 10 to 15 feet taller than the water tank near the entrance to Buffalo Park and will be twice as tall as many other two-story buildings. The whole point of the rezoning to High-Density is to allow a 57-foot tall building to be built. Why would we want such a tall building to be built on a mesa that is already one of the highest points in the city?
If you are going to approve the rezoning, you should insist that the new zoning classification apply only to the footprint of the proposed school. After all, it is the school and its height that is prompting this rezoning request. You should not rezone the rest of the property until the owner provides a clear and compelling reason to do so.
My wife (Lisa Rayner) and I will be leading a group tour to the site
of the proposed church and school on Sept. 12 at 10 a.m. (or 5 p.m. if
it rains in the morning). If you have not been out to see the site, this
would be a good opportunity for you to do so. We will be meeting at the
trailhead at the north end of Hemlock Way and then hiking about half a
mile along the FUTS trail to the site.
Now I would like to delve a little more deeply into my concerns, beginning with my concerns about the process of notifying the public about this project. I learned about this project from a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. I am not sure how else I could have possibly learned about it. It is true that there was an article in the Arizona Daily Sun about the proposed church and school in July of 2008. The focus was on a ground-breaking ceremony and very few details were provided about the church and school, or the proposed location. The groundbreaking proved to be premature as there has been no construction to date.
On Aug. 26, Planning and Zoning held a public hearing about the rezoning. My wife and I were two of about four people who spoke out against the rezoning and the proposed church and school. The fact that so few people spoke against the project is further proof that very few members of the public outside of members of San Francisco de Asis Parish know anything about what is being proposed. McMillan Mesa is one of Flagstaff's most treasured open spaces, and I am sure that with enough publicity, hundreds of people might have turned out to oppose the rezoning. Recall that in 2004, 43 percent of voters voted to approve a $10 million bond measure to purchase another area of McMillan Mesa to be preserved as open space. Though that was not enough votes, it does show that thousands of Flagstaff residents treasure McMillan Mesa.
On July 25, the parish held its own public meeting which has been documented by the parish in attachments to the Planning and Zoning Report of Aug. 26. (See pages 14, 15 and 16, or pages 17, 18 and 19 of the Staff Summary Report dated Aug. 31.) These attachments in the staff report are telling. The letter from the parish to adjacent property owners is dated June 26, maybe too far in advance of the July 25 meeting, so that some who received it lost the letter or forgot about it and thus did not attend. The letter does not attempt to identify the location of the proposed church and school (except to say "north of Enterprise Road and Route 66 intersection"), nor does it attempt to describe the size of the church and school. The letter does not mention the possible extension of Ponderosa Parkway. The letter does not mention the need for rezoning. Also, it is not clear who exactly received this letter. If it was only sent to adjacent property owners, then we could be talking about a very small number of people. If an apartment was adjacent to the property, did the tenants receive the letter, or only the owner of the building? Similarly, if a shopping center was adjacent to the property, did the tenants in the center receive the letter, or only the owner of the shopping center? Is there a list somewhere of who got the letter? The two recaps of the meeting provided by the parish suggest that most if not all of those who attended the July 25 meeting were members of the parish who were "unequivocally positive" about the project and "gushed over the eyepleasing plans." The 97 written surveys completed at the meeting were described as "100 % positive."
I do not believe that there were any advertisements in the Arizona
Daily Sun for either the Aug. 26 public hearing or the July 25 public
meeting. I have searched the pages of the Daily Sun for a two-week
period prior to and including these dates and have not been able to find
any advertisements mentioning either event. How can you have a public
hearing or a public meeting without an advertisement of some kind in the
Now let's talk about the rezoning signs that were posted in public places. Page 10 of the staff report (page 13 of Staff Summary Report dated Aug. 31)includes a "Notice of Public Hearing." I do not know where this notice was posted. What I do know is that it contains a serious factual error. It says, "The development will include structures totaling approximately 63,300 square feet in floor area, parking areas, and related amenities." This statement grossly understates the actual size of the proposed development. The figure 63,300 refers to the floor area of the school (1.5 acres). The notice does not mention the 21,350 square feet of floor area of the church. Also, the development calls for several acres worth of parking area and driveways, plus a playground and two playing fields. Then there is the proposed extension of Ponderosa Parkway. The actual square footage relating to the development is perhaps 10 times higher than what is stated in the notice. The notice includes a map, but the map does not show where exactly the church and school are to be built.
I am aware that other similar (but different) notices were placed in two public places. One set of notices was tacked to a fence along Route 66. Partly obscured by trees, and set back from the road by 15 to 20 feet, these notices undoubtedly went mostly unnoticed. These notices say nothing about a church or school, or Ponderosa Parkway. There is no indication of any proposed development. The address shown (1600 East Route 66) suggests development, if any, will be along Route 66. In fact, the proposed development is about half a mile north of Route 66.
Another notice was on a wood stake placed in the ground between the FUTS trail and the church site. When I visited the site last weekend, the stake and notice had fallen over (or been knocked over by vandals?). I visited again a few days later and the situation was the same. This time I tried to right the stake, and pound it into the ground. I was able to get the stake to stand, but the notice was torn and tattered.
In conclusion, there has been little real effort to notify the public about the rezoning or the church/school development. Therefore, I believe the council should delay making a decision on the proposal. Additional public hearings may be in order. More of an effort should be made to publicize the proposed development. The public at large deserves an opportunity to study the project and provide comment to the council.
Now let us look at the proposed location of the church, school, and surrounding parking lots.
The biggest concern is how close the development is to the FUTS/Arizona trail. This is a beautiful stretch of the trail. The forest is on one side and the vast expanse of the grassy mesa on the other, with the peaks visible in the distance. Despite its beauty, this section of the trail is not well known even to many locals. It is accessible on one end from Hemlock Way, and on the other from the new bridge across Cedar Avenue. The proposed parking lot will approach to within about 25 feet of the trail. For about 400 feet, the parking lot will closely parallel the trail. The parking lot and nearby buildings will seriously detract from the experience of trail users. If the church and school are to be built at the current location, then perhaps the trail should be realigned so that it will be farther from the church and school.
Furthermore, any future development on the mesa to the south of the proposed church/school location will suffer a damaged viewshed looking north toward the peaks, especially if the school is going to be 57-feet tall.
Moving the church/school complex to the south end of the mesa solves both of the above problems. Of course, moving the church and school to the south end of the mesa will make the school much more visible to people along Route 66 and Enterprise. But who cares? Drivers along Route 66 and Enterprise are already bombarded with signs of industrial development, from railroad tracks to an oil-change shop and nearby shopping areas.
Moving the development to the south end of the mesa could help to alleviate another concern: The current location is far from transportation corridors. It is about half a mile from Route 66. This means very few people will be able to walk or ride their bikes or take the bus to the proposed location. By moving the complex to the southern end of the mesa, it could be made more accessible.
Finally, moving the church/school to the south end of the 28-acre parcel will minimize the effect on wildlife, especially migrating animals. Despite the new development on the mesa, I have seen deer and elk crossing Cedar Ave. within the last year. Animals have no voice and no vote. But they are part of the community and we should feel some responsibility for their welfare.
I should also mentioned that there is a four-acre parcel of land for sale at the extreme southern tip of McMillan Mesa. That parcel is on a shelf midway between the level of Route 66 and the top of the mesa. I was told by the real estate company that the property could be developed if it was made level with Route 66. So one option might be to put the church and school on this parcel, with the parking area and playing fields on top of the mesa. Of course, this too would require a steep driveway and maybe an elevator to connect the upper and lower properties.
Now let us look at the development itself.
I do not understand why the school needs to be 57-feet tall. That seems obscenely tall. I live in a townhome with two floors. My living room has a high vaulted ceiling and my attic space is big enough that I can walk around in it. And yet, my townhome is only about 30 feet from the ground to the top of the roof. If the goal is to create an eyesore, then a 57-foot tall building will surely succeed. It will undoubtedly be the tallest structure on the mesa and visible for miles around.
Another question is why this massive school appears on maps to be hanging out over a steep slope so that one end of the school may need as much as 20 feet worth of fill, or perhaps pillars of concrete, to keep it from breaking in half and tumbling down the hill. This seems like a recipe for foundation cracking and other structural problems as time goes by.
The church and school development is to be accessible via a proposed extension of Ponderosa Parkway. The parkway will be built in a steep drainage area. While the Parkway will provide a valuable second entry and exit road for existing development on the mesa, the Parkway could create more problems than it solves. It could greatly increase traffic on the existing stretch of Ponderosa Parkway due to new traffic to the church and school. Also, some drivers on Route 66 and on Turquoise could use the Parkway to avoid the intersection of Route 66 and Switzer Canyon Drive. Do we really want a lot more traffic on Ponderosa Parkway? Ponderosa Parkway is currently surrounded by apartments full of children.
Across Ponderosa Parkway from these apartments is a playground. A much busier Ponderosa Parkway will pose a hazard to children in the neighborhood. Also, it will do nothing to enhance the quality of life for apartment tenants.
Meanwhile, Ponderosa Parkway will be very steep at both ends, which means it will be hazardous during snowy and icy conditions. Residents who live along the west end of the parkway already must deal with their very steep driveways, and now they could be facing a lot more traffic as they try to back out of their icy drives.
When the church bought this property, it was zoned RR. That was what they bought, and they should have been prepared to live with that zoning. But now they were asking for a rezoning. Does this request benefit the larger community in any way? I don't think so. It may not be our property, but we the people of Flagstaff still have a say in any zoning change.
Frankly, building a church and school on McMillan Mesa seems like a terrible idea. It is terrible at the currently proposed location, and only a little less terrible if the location is moved to the southern end of the Mesa. My preference would be to see the church redevelop its existing properties, or to swap its land on the mesa for other property in the community. For instance, there is the Mega Foods property on Fourth Street that would seem to be an ideal location for a new church and school. Or, there is undeveloped property south of Route 66 and north of the tracks near Fourth Street.
McMillan Mesa has been a focal point of public concern for decades. Now it seems that the church is trying to sneak a massive project onto the mesa without notifying the public about what is going on. We need to give the public a chance to study the plan and comment on it. We need to think creatively about other options that benefit the larger community. Please consider such options as delaying a vote on the rezoning, denying the rezoning, requiring that the church be moved to the southern end of the mesa, and exploring other options that might protect this area of the mesa from development.
Thank you for your consideration.
Before you vote to rezone or not rezone the 28 acre parcel of land on the southeastern lobe of McMillan Mesa, I ask that you please physically visit the site and walk the FUTS trail to the site of the proposed parking lot, school and church. Take more time to study the site itself and the proposed building plan. Furthermore, consider how to better notify the public about the rezoning request. I think that the public was grossly under-informed about the proposed rezoning and development.
In terms of the site design, it appears from city staff reports that staff only considered the view shed from Rt. 66 up toward the San Francisco Peaks, not the 360 degree view shed of mountains, meadows and forests now visible from the FUTS trail that loops through city-owned open space right next to the church-owned parcel. Why? It makes absolutely no sense to me to prioritize the view from a busy, developed, major transportation corridor and ignore the view from public open space. This section of FUTS trail is also part of the Arizona Trail. This unspoiled 360 degree view in the center of the Flagstaff area is a very rare commodity. The view from the public open space is much more valuable to the citizens of Flagstaff than the view from Rt. 66. I don’t want to see that 360 degree view destroyed by thoughtless rezoning and site planning.
I am very familiar with both the proposed rezoning parcel and the adjacent city open space. In terms of the site design, it makes much more sense for:
1) the church to move the entire proposed development to the southern end of the 28 acre parcel
2) only the foot print of the school or at most the school-church-parking lot to be rezoned to High Density Residential or Medium Density Residential
3) the northern half of the parcel to remain Rural Residential
Staff has tried to reconcile the High Density Residential zoning with the Regional Plan’s designation of the parcel as Medium Density Residential. It makes no sense and makes me wonder if the city’s interest in the extension of Ponderosa Parkway has clouded their judgment on the rest of the parcel. Whatever happens sets the stage for the rest of the parcel. If the entire 28 acres is rezoned HDR, it will most likely all be developed HDR. The church says on its Web site that it may sell the other half of the rezoned area at a later date. I am concerned about what type of high density development would go on a sold-off piece of the property. I also question the need to make the two-story school 57 feet high. This height is the only given reason for the applicant requesting a rezoning to HDR. I wonder if the real reason for the desire for HDR zoning is the higher resale value of the land.
The church has also discussed building religious retreat houses on part of the land. It seems to me that if the school and church were placed at the southern end of the 28 acres, and if the northern half was left Rural Residential, the church could build religious retreat housing on the northern part under Rural Residential rules. With a little less than half the parcel zoned HDR or MDR and the other half zoned RR, you end up with an average density that better fits the needs of the Regional Plan.
You should also keep in mind that the city is currently in the process of rewriting the Regional Plan and Land Development Code. My guess it that most people are going to want the remaining open space on McMillan Mesa to be preserved, especially now that the parcel next to Cedar Ave. has been visibly spoiled by infrastructure development.
Now, concerning the lack of adequate public notification, it appears to me that the Land Development Code’s section 10-10 Procedures, #5. Citizen Participation Plan calls for much greater public notification and participation in the process than has been provided.
Under #5 b it says, "The purposes of the citizen participation plan are to:
(1) Ensure that applicants pursue early and effective citizen participation in conjunction with their applications, giving them the opportunity to understand and try to mitigate any real or perceived impacts their application may have on the community;
(2) Ensure that the citizens and property owners of Flagstaff have an adequate opportunity to learn about applications that may affect them and to work with applicants to resolve concerns at an early stage of the process; and
(3) Facilitate ongoing communication among the applicant, potentially affected citizens and adjacent property owners, city staff, and elected officials throughout the application review process."
The notification and participation options so far have NOT provided, "early and effective citizen participation … ongoing communication among the applicant, (and) potentially affected citizens … throughout the application review process." I did not learn of the July 25 public event until after the Aug. 26 P&Z meeting– and I only learned about that P&Z meeting because a P&Z commissioner e-mailed me. The notification process has been extremely limited and mostly very late in the rezoning process.
Also consider who are the "affected citizens" here? I think they include residents of nearby neighborhoods, including McMillan Mesa, north of the hospital, Turquoise Dr., and at least the western half of Sunnyside. In addition, let’s remember that the parcel in question is adjacent to city owned open space– land owned technically by all citizens of the city. We are ALL owners of the adjacent land and thus deserve direct notification just like the private land owners located within 300 feet of the church property. Furthermore, FUTS/Arizona Trail users also have an interest in what happens next to the trail and preserved open space. In addition to city residents, there are also county residents who use that trail and enjoy the unspoiled 360 degree view from the trail. The Arizona Trail is a state-wide project and part of a larger trail that will someday stretch from Mexico to Canada. We should be thinking of the ecologically-sensitive tourism Flagstaff will gain from the Arizona Trail and strive to make our little section of it as attractive as possible. In addition to letters being sent to all residents of the city, perhaps in our water bills as a cost-saving measure, there should be articles on the requested rezoning published in both Cityscape and the comparable county publication. Moreover, organizations like Flagstaff Biking.org should be notified directly as well.
Finally, I think the 300 feet notification rule is ridiculous. Sedona’s notification rule extends to 1,000 feet from a land parcel. The church parcel is somewhat isolated due to the steep topography and thus should require even more expansive notification. It also seems unfair that only owners and not tenants are notified, especially when the land in question is used as open space by residents of the area.
Please direct city staff to redo the public notification and participation process.
Dan Frazier's Sept. 14, 2009 comments on the July 25 public meeting hosted by the church:
Today I went down to City Hall and looked over the written surveys completed at a parish-sponsored public participation meeting held on July 25, 2009. According to information in the staff report, the meeting took place on the church property, with a tent set up near Enterprise, and another at the top of Ponderosa Parkway. Visual displays were set up, and walking tours of the property were conducted. The event was publicized by a letter sent to adjacent property owners a month before the event was held. The letter, which appears in the staff report (page 17). does not indicate exactly where the church and school would be built, nor does it attempt to describe the size or height of the buildings or the development. The letter does not mention the need for a rezoning.
After the July 25 public meeting the parish prepared a recap of the meeting, and described the 97 completed surveys as "unequivocally positive," though the recap does mention that someone expressed concerns about drainage into the neighboring Sunnyside area.
Perhaps the reason that the surveys were so uniformly positive is that the surveys asked such stupid questions. There were five questions. Not one of them had anything to do with the specifics of the project. For instance, there was no question about whether or not the proposed location of the church or the school seemed appropriate, or beneficial to the community. There was no question about whether or not a 57-foot tall school on McMillan Mesa might be objectionable. Here are all of the questions on the pre-printed surveys:
Did the meeting give you a better idea what we are envisioning for our educational and worship center? If no, please explain. YES NO
Were the visual aids helpful and informative? YES NO
Were the volunteers friendly and easy to talk to? YES NO
Did it help your comprehension of the proposed new development to hold the meeting on the actual development site? YES NO
What other thoughts, concerns, issues etc. do you have with the project?
The recap of the public meeting provided by the parish claims that the surveys were "unequivocally positive." Though all of the multiple-choice answers were positive, as is evident from the questions above, that does not tell us much. The handwritten comments were also mostly positive. Many of these comments do in fact gush with enthusiasm as the recap claims. But the comments are not all unequivocally positive. A few comments express concerns. For instance, Craig McMurray, who happens to be a neighbor on Hemlock Way, wrote, "Additional information on when & where lights would be installed. Hours of use for lights & the ball field needs to be provided. Concern on school use of park at locus / Ponderosa Parkway & overcrowding with the Montessori School use in conjunction with church. Proposed ext. of Enterprise to tie-in w/ P. Parkway is a concern. P. Parkway is not a collector level config. & addit. cut-thru traffic won't help." Or consider this comment from Jeff Hartin: "Although the loss of open space is sad for the entire community, the fact that this is private property, it's development is inevitable." The point is that to say the surveys were "unequivocally positive" goes a bit too far.
Interestingly, the few people who expressed concern were usually people who clearly lived near the proposed church and school site. But a review of the addresses provided by those who completed surveys revealed that only a handful of surveys were completed by people who live within a few hundred feet of the church property. No wonder only a handful of surveys suggest any real concerns about the project. Most of the surveys were obviously completed by members of the church. Their addresses were scattered across Flagstaff and outlying areas, with some addresses as far away as Munds Park, Forest Highlands, and even Phoenix!
It was also interesting to notice that only a handful of the surveys were completed by people with Hispanic surnames. This confirms my personal suspicion, based also on what I saw at the Aug. 26 Planning and Zoning Public Hearing, that the principal advocates for building a school and church on McMillan Mesa are affluent or middle class white, middle-aged folks. People who are poor, elderly, or who ride the bus, or walk to get where they need to go are not advocating for a church and school at this remote location.
Dan Frazier's Sept. 15, 2009 statement to Flagstaff City Council:
My name is Dan Frazier. I live near the hospital and I sometimes hike on McMillan Mesa. You received a letter from me last week with some of my concerns. If you have misplaced that letter, you can go to my Web site, CarryaBigSticker.com, and click on the link in the upper left corner. I have posted a number of photos there of the proposed development site, as well as official documents, maps, site plans, etc.
I do not want to see anything built on McMillan Mesa. But if we are going to allow this school and church to be built on the proposed site, we should do everything we can to minimize the damage that will be done to the view from the FUTS trail.
Let's talk about the public participation process. If this room seems full of people, it is partly because my wife and I have been working hard to alert the public to the threat posed to McMillan Mesa. We have written letters to the editor, set up a Web page, lobbied nonprofit organizations to get involved, sent e-mails and distributed about 1,000 fliers to neighbors who live near the mesa.
We are glad to see some of the public here tonight. But it is not our job or responsibility to alert the public. That is the job of the church and the city, and that job has not been done properly. This job of notifying the public is spelled out in the Land Development Code, section 10-10. Unfortunately, the rules are vague, and easily evaded.
As a result, we have seen a rezoning notice posted on a fence where it was partly obscured by trees. A similar notice appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun, but only once, five weeks ago, when it was buried in the sports section. The notice included a map of the area to be rezoned, but the map did not show exactly where the church and school would be built. The notice says, "The development will include structures totaling approximately 63,300 square feet in floor area, parking areas, and related amenities." That's wrong. The actual square footage relating to the development is perhaps 10 times higher than what is stated in the notice.
Meanwhile, on July 25, as part of its public participation effort, the parish held a public meeting. They sent a letter inviting neighboring property owners to attend. But the letter did not mention the need to rezone the property, nor did the letter attempt to pinpoint the location or size of the development. The meeting was not advertised in the Daily Sun. At the public meeting, 97 written surveys were completed. It is clear that most of these were completed by church members, which explains why most surveys were so enthusiastic. Of course, it also helped that the survey included only five questions, and four of them were meaningless Yes or No questions like, "Were the visual aids helpful and informative?"
I have run out of time, but my point is that the public participation process has been a joke thus far. I urge you to slow down this process and redouble your efforts to involve the public in this very important process.
I brought the square footage discrepancy to the attention of staff. As you may know, I have sued the state of Arizona and the City in the past. And I won. Please keep that in mind.
Dan Frazier's Oct. 6 Statement to City
Hello, my name is Dan Frazier, my address is
The ordinance says, "Whereas, the Council finds that the proposed rezoning with conditions will not be detrimental to the uses of adjoining parcels or to other uses within the vicinity." That statement is laughable. How can a 14-acre development that includes two huge buildings and a large parking lot within 25 feet of a public trail and public open space "not be detrimental to the uses of adjoining parcels?"
Requiring the construction of a four-foot high wall to block the view of a 57-foot high school is equally laughable. A four-foot high wall won't even block the view of the parking lot, unless you are less than four feet tall.
The major question of any rezoning is whether or
not the rezoning serves the interests of the public at large. In this
case, I don't think it does. It may serve the interests of the property
owner, but that is not the same as serving the interests of the public
at large. If 3,000 Catholics will make use of the 1,500-seat church and
a school built to accommodate just 200 or 300 students, that works out
to just 5 percent of the city's population. Ninety-five percent of
The church and its supporters are promising to make
a deal with the city to provide or sell land to the city for a fire
station, and to allow the city to extend
Meanwhile, how many letters has the city received
from residents saying we need a fire station near
Rezoning is not automatic. Rezoning is not a right. It is not up to the property owner. It is not up to Planning and Zoning. It is not up to city staff. It is up to you, the Council, and it is entirely discretionary. You can deny any rezoning, and you don't even have to give a reason. That is as it should be. On behalf of most Flagstaff voters, and many Catholics, I urge you not to approve this rezoning.
Dan Frazier's comments on the article that appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Sept. 15 about the Church and School and the Council Meeting to be held later the same day.
A few corrections and additions are in order:
The Planning and Zoning Commission (not the "Planning Board") voted 6-1
(not unanimously) on Aug. 26 (not Aug. 25) to recommend rezoning. The
new zoning includes a stipulation that the City will have a right of way
(not an easement) to extend Ponderosa Parkway from Enterprise to the
existing portion of Ponderosa Parkway at the top of the mesa. A right of
way is different from an easement because the City will own the land
under the parkway. In an easement, the land would be retained by the
Church, but the City would be allowed to use it. I am not sure what is
meant by "limited access parkway." Sounds like a toll-road. It will not
be a toll road, and probably not a limited access parkway either. The
Parkway will be a public street. It will have two driveways that branch
off to the developed portion of church property. The Parkway will not be
fully built until and unless there is additional development on church
property beyond the proposed school and church. Only a short stretch of
Parkway will be built initially to provide access to a church/school
The story does not make clear that the parking lot will be located
within 25-feet of a beautiful section of the FUTS / Arizona Trail and
near a wide expanse of City-owned open space on the mesa.
Dan Frazier's comments on the article that appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Sept. 17 about the Sept. 15 Public Hearing before Flagstaff's City Council:
I would like to point out a few things: The church and school would not be built directly above Route 66 as this story implies. In fact, the church and school would be built half a mile from Route 66, very near the FUTS trail and city open space.
Bob Wilson's comments were interesting, and I'm
sorry that they were not quoted at length. I felt his actual comments
suggested that the Catholic Church had in the past been racist in
segregating its hispanic members in neighborhood churches. He called
them "Mexicans." I am concerned that the proposed church will continue a
pattern of racism seen in some churches. The new church will be high on
a hill, far from bus lines and transportation corridors, meaning
low-income individuals without access to transportation will not be able
to easily walk to church. At both of the public hearings that I have
attended related to the proposed church and school, church members in
attendance have been overwhelmingly white -- much more than you would
expect given the location of St. Pious on
"Opponents were fewer in number" is vague at best. I think about seven people spoke up with concerns about the proposed development, including a representative of Friends of Flagstaff Future, and at least one Catholic.
The story says, "Dan Frazier said one of the documents in the public notice postings for the hearing failed to label the size of a proposed building. That convinced city planners to recommend that the hearing be ended and the council restart the 30-day public notice process." That's wrong. What I said was " The notice included a map of the area to be rezoned, but the map did not show exactly where the church and school would be built. The notice says, 'The development will include structures totaling approximately 63,300 square feet in floor area, parking areas, and related amenities.' That's wrong. The actual square footage relating to the development is perhaps 10 times higher than what is stated in the notice."
The development covers 14 acres, not the 1.5 acres suggested by 63,300 square feet.
The story says, "That convinced city planners to recommend that the hearing be ended and the council restart the 30-day public notice process." It should have said that city staff (not planners) recommended that the public hearing before Council be allowed to proceed because so many people had come out to speak. However, staff recommended that in the interest of full transparency (and avoiding a possible lawsuit), the public notification and public hearing process should start over. They recommended that new, corrected notices should be printed and distributed in accordance with state law, and then public hearings be held before Planning and Zoning and City Council.
The story says, "But a majority of the council believed the city and church acted properly and opted to continue the public hearing." The story should have said that at first most Council members seemed to support the recommendation to repeat the public notification process. However, after hearing 10 to 15 church members explain how a 30-day delay would be costly and inconvenient for the church, the Council members agreed to move forward with the rezoning ordinance, despite the recommendation of City staff.
The story says, "White asked parish officials if they would consider indemnifying the city from any lawsuit if the council agreed to proceed, but officials responded they lacked the authority to make such a promise." The story should have said that Terrence Milligan responded by saying that the archbishop had the authority needed to indemnify the city, but it was not clear if Milligan was authorized to speak for the archbishop, or if the archbishop was likely to authorize indemnifying the city.
Report on letters to City Council - Posted 10/23/09
I recently spent many long hours reading the letters sent to the Flagstaff City Council in support of building a new Catholic Church and School on McMillan Mesa. There were close to 250 letters. There were also between 15 and 20 letters that expressed concern about the project. A few of these expressed outright opposition. All letters to Council are public record and available to anyone from City Clerk Margie Brown.
Most of the supportive letters were obviously from parishioners of San Francisco de Asis church. There were only a few instances where a supporter claimed not to be a member of the parish. In one instance, a supporter claimed that he was not a Catholic or a member of the parish. Not long after reading this letter I came across another letter from someone else with the same last name, and the same phone number. This person identified herself as a member of the parish and a realtor.
One of the things that I realized while reading these letters was that none of the supporters gave any good reason why the new church and school should be built on McMillan Mesa. Nobody wrote, for instance, "Our religion requires that we build our church in a central location that is higher than most of the surrounding landscape so that we can show that our religion is superior." Nobody wrote, "The Pope has declared that from now on we should build our churches in isolated areas away from the worldly influences of urban neighborhoods." Only one person dared to mention the obvious: If the Mormons are allowed to have a church on a hill (Cherry Hill), then the Catholics should be allowed to have a church on a hill.
The only argument that most letter writers could come up with to justify putting a church and school on McMillan Mesa was that this is supposedly a central location. To test this argument, I plotted the addresses of about 56 letter writers who supported the McMillan Mesa site on a map. (The map is a 1983 edition and so does not show many roads.) I then drew lines from each of these locations to the McMillan Mesa site. The resulting map does indeed suggest that McMillan Mesa is a central location. But it is probably not the most central location. That honor would probably go to a point somewhat farther south and west of the McMillan Mesa site. The current sites of Nativity Church, and St. Mary's School may actually be more centrally located. (See this map. The PDF file is large (11 Mb) and may take some time to load.)
Of course, this assumes that the 56 letter writers who provided their addresses have provided a truly representative sampling of where Flagstaff's church-going Catholics live. Nearly all the letters I read appeared to have been sent by e-mail, and they were all in English. Church-going Catholics in Sunnyside were likely under-represented because Internet connections may be less common in Sunnyside homes, and English proficiency may not be present in some Catholic homes in Sunnyside. Plus, some Sunnyside residents who currently appreciate having a church in their neighborhood may not support moving the church to McMillan Mesa.
Curiously, not a single supportive letter writer provided an address in University Heights. Could it be that a neighborhood dominated by NAU professors and students has very few Catholics?
In a second experiment, I created another map. (View map as 2 Mb PDF.) I drew a big red circle around the McMillan Mesa site, and a similarly sized green circle around the St. Pius Church location. My big red circle only contained the locations of two supportive letter writers. Meanwhile, my big green circle contained the locations of five supportive letter writers. Each circle had a radius of about half a mile. This suggests that if the St. Pius church location were to be redeveloped, more than twice as many people would be able to walk to church compared to the McMillan Mesa site. In reality, if the St. Pius location was redeveloped, it would likely attract many times more walkers and bikers because it is not high on a hill where daunting slopes are sure to discourage many would-be walkers and bikers.
Another thing I noticed while reading these letters was that nearly all of them had the exact same subject line: "I am in favor of the SFdA project." Several of these messages had ONLY a subject line, or a subject line and just one sentence that echoed the subject line. It appeared that these e-mail messages were a direct response to an appeal by the church leadership to contact City Council in support of the rezoning. Nearly all of these messages were sent on Sept. 13, 14 and 15. September 15 was the date of the public hearing before the City Council. The messages were not a spontaneous result of ordinary Flagstaff residents reacting to, say, an article in the newspaper, with a heart-felt message to the Council.
Many of the letter writers complained about the crowded conditions at St. Pius, and the sad condition of the old St. Mary's school. While these concerns are understandable, they have nothing to do with whether or not a large church and school should be built on McMillan Mesa. There are other places that a new church and school could be built without harming the mesa.
Some letter writers complained that the parish has been trying for many years to get a new church and school built. As if, because of delays, which may well have been caused partly by the incompetence of church leaders, the process should now be fast-tracked without the usual public review. I notice that in the years that the church has been trying to get its church and school built, many other large buildings have been built in Flagstaff. Apparently, some project managers know how to get their projects built, despite the rules and regulations down at City Hall. As far as I know, there are no other churches or schools that have been waiting as long as the Catholic parish, or that are so desperate for new facilities. Somehow, the other churches in town managed to plan ahead, picked less difficult or controversial building sites, and built their new buildings before they were in a crisis situation.
I can't help thinking that some of the crowding at St. Pius is the direct result of Catholic doctrine. For instance, a prohibition against the use of condoms contributes to a rapidly growing Catholic population. Furthermore, a shortage of priests puts pressure on the church to consolidate all services into a single facility. But why is there a shortage of priests? Perhaps because of the requirement that priests be celibate.
A number of letter writers said that it was inevitable that the property would be developed, and that a church and school on the property would be better than a housing subdivision on the mesa. I do not believe that development of this portion of the mesa is inevitable. This portion of the mesa has not been developed in the last 100 years for a reason: The ground is rocky, and the steep slopes make it difficult to develop this property. It is true that Flagstaff has grown dramatically in recent decades. If that trend were to continue, it would probably not be long before this area of the mesa was developed. But times have changed. We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the great depression. And we are not out of the woods yet. Anything could happen: The value of the dollar could collapse. The price of oil could spike again. Beyond the economy, there are other changes that could reduce pressure to build on the mesa. For instance, the current drought could continue, leading to a water shortage. Or a forest fire could ravage a large area of Flagstaff, making Flagstaff a less attractive place to live.
Even if the property is to be developed one way or another, there is no reason to think that a large church and school would be better than a few houses, which is all that could be built under current zoning. Even with a rezoning to allow for higher density, including apartments and townhomes, the apartments and townhomes would be unlikely to be as tall as the proposed school. There are apartments and townhomes already on the mesa in another area. None of these is anywhere near as tall as the 57-foot height of the proposed school. In fact, they may only be about 30 feet tall.
As for the letters raising concerns about the proposed development, I will not say much about them because most of these concerns have been touched on elsewhere on this Web page.
But I do want to mention a letter from one parishioner whose concerns deserve special attention. The letter was sent Sept. 24, 2009. The parishioner begins his letter, "I fear that you and the citizenry of Flagstaff have a serious misunderstanding concerning the extent of the proposed development on McMillan Mesa." He goes on to write, "The impression left after the public hearing on September 15 was that the church/school complex plus a possible couple of 'small ancillary buildings' is the extent of the the planned development. I questioned our pastor, Fr. Patrick Mowrer, after the meeting and asked him directly whether the parish was going to forego development on the 'unused' land that the church now owns on the mesa and he replied, 'Well, the newspaper got it all wrong.' Another parishioner asked the same question of him at a different time and place and got the same reply. Hence, I don't believe that the parish has any intention of leaving the remaining land up there vacant."
The writer continues, "When the land was purchased by the diocese a number of years ago it was announced quite publicly that the intention was to use part of the property to develop the church and school. The parish would then sell the remainder to a developer or work with a developer to turn the remaining land into a housing development. The development of this land would raise the funds necessary to pay for the new church and school." You can read the letter here. (I have blacked out the writer's name and contact information because I do not know if he wants his identity publicized.)
Perhaps it is no surprise that one supportive letter writer is Deidre Craig, the current president of the Northern Arizona Association of Realtors. I met Craig when she attended the walking tour to the proposed building site in September of 2009. During the tour, which was led by me and my wife, she was clearly an advocate for the church and school project. In her letter to the Council, she calls the proposed church and school development a "perfect example of smart in-fill." She says that she once walked the property while showing the property to a potential buyer. "I noticed many transient campsites," she writes. "This was very concerning since it was a in a high fire danger time of year." Apparently, to reduce the risk of wildfire, we should develop all forested areas around the city.
Craig goes on to write, "I and my family moved here from a rural area that failed to develop and find their city is dying out. A community must always grow to survive and thrive." This is typical realtor nonsense. I have heard the grow-or-die myth so often that I now find it nauseating. In the natural world, there are no organisms that I am aware of that grow continuously forever. In nature, health is more often the result of finding the right balance. A healthy human maintains a healthy weight throughout his or her lifetime. A human who continuously grows will soon be obese and will die if growth is not controlled. In nature, animals and plants whose populations grow and grow do so at the expense of other organisms and the results can be catastrophic. Think of Kudzu, Quagga mussels and other invasive species.
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Information & resources
Watch the Sept. 15 Public Hearing before Flagstaff City Council. The relevant discussion is agenda item 6B. My wife (Lisa Rayner) and I (Dan Frazier) make our comments in part two of the four-part video series.
Watch the Oct. 6 Flagstaff City Council Meeting. In the first of two planned votes, City Council voted unanimously to rezone the property, despite concerns about whether the church will agree to conditions imposed by the city. The relevant discussion is agenda item 7D.
Watch a video showing the view from 53 feet above the proposed school site. The school will be 57 feet high. This video, shot by Dan Frazier, required climbing a tall Ponderosa Pine Tree and then raising the camera above the tree-top using a pole. Video shows that roof will be visible from several locations in Flagstaff, and that this area of McMillan Mesa is beautiful.
Watch a 41-second video showing the location on McMillan Mesa where San Francisco de Asis Parish wants to build its new church and school. Video was shot from the FUTS trail. City open space appears on one side of the trail, and the Church / School site on the other.
Short news story from 12 News, Sept. 17 in which Terrence Milligan of the San Francisco de Asis parish, referring to a possible legal battle over the church and school project, says "Bring it on!" Video may take a moment or two to load.
You will need Adobe Reader to view PDF documents below.
Sept. 22 letter from Dan Frazier to Flagstaff City Council stating that he intends to sue the city due to certain shortcomings in the public notification process. MS Word.
See a map of the site where the church and school are to be built. From staff report. With color highlights added by us. PDF
Map with contour lines showing slopes. From staff report. Notice that school hangs over slope, and may require as much as 20 feet of fill. PDF
Closer view of Church and school site footprint (murky). From staff report. PDF
School. From staff report. School will be 57 feet high, not counting fill above slope. PDF
Drawings of Church. From staff report. Height of church has not been specified. PDF
School floor plan 1st floor. From staff report.
School floor plan 2nd floor. From staff report. PDF
Read the City of Flagstaff staff report prepared for the Planning and Zoning Commission's Public Hearing related to this project. (Held Aug. 26, 2009). The report recommends approval of rezoning. This 9-page version does not include attachments. Attachments are listed above and below. PDF
Download the 40-page City Staff Summary Report dated Aug. 31, 2009. Prepared for the Flagstaff City Council. Similar to the above staff report, but with more attachments, and a summary of the Aug. 26 public hearing. Includes many of the documents listed separately on this Web page. PDF
Download the 52-page City Staff Summary Report prepared for Oct. 6 Flagstaff City Council meeting. Similar to the above staff report, but with additional pages at the beginning, and several new conditions including the much-discussed Condition #10 that appears to require the church to build the extension of Ponderosa Parkway if the city decides not to build it. Includes many of the documents listed separately on this Web page. PDF
Notice of Public Hearing Page 10 of staff report dated 9/7/09. Notice that it does not show location of development. Also, it states development covers 63,300 sq. ft., but maps show footprint will cover perhaps 10 acres (435,600 sq. ft.), not counting playing fields or Ponderosa Parkway. PDF
Development Review Board Approval Includes 12 conditions required to move forward with the project. Page 11 of staff report. PDF
Rezoning application. Page 12 of staff report. PDF
Reason for rezoning. From San Francisco De Asis Parish. Page 13 of staff report. PDF
Terrence Milligan letter notifying neighbors of project and meeting. It is not clear who this letter was sent to. Dated June 26, 2009. Letter does not clearly state location or size of development. Letter does not mention need for rezoning. Page 14 of staff report. PDF
San Francisco de Asis Public Meeting Information recap. Reports some details of event held July 25, 2009 in which church supposedly tried to inform neighbors about the project. It appears many who attended were church members. Page 15 of staff report. PDF
Implementation Team Public Meeting Information Recap. Reports some comments from July 25, 2009 event. Again it seems clear many comments were from church members. Page 16 of staff report. PDF
Preliminary Tree Resource Calculations. From staff report. PDF
Read the summary of the Aug. 26 Public hearing prepared afterwards by City staff. PDF
Small map from Coconino County Tax Assessor's Office showing boundary of the 107 acres owned by the Catholic Church on McMillan Mesa, with neighboring properties included. Includes Full Cash Value information for years 2007 through 2010. PDF
Large map from Coconino County Tax Assessor's Office showing boundary of the 107 acres owned by the Catholic Church on McMillan Mesa. Does not include neighboring properties or landmarks. PDF
Affidavit of Property Value from Coconino County Tax Assessor's Office. Shows 107 acres on McMillan Mesa was purchased by the church for $2.5 million in 2003. PDF
Download the 114-page Development Agreement between the City, Laurie Nemec and Gemini LLC regarding the land exchange deal needed to extend Ponderosa Parkway from Enterprise. This document was prepared by city staff for the Nov. 3, 2009 City Council meeting. The agreement will have its first reading on Nov. 3, followed by a vote. A second reading and second vote is planned for Nov. 11.
Download our flier to distribute to your friends and neighbors. Page 1 includes mini map of area up for rezoning and info about Sept. 12 walking tour. Page 2 includes info about Sept. 15 City Council Meeting. PDF
Below are links to several articles that have appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun. Many of these contain significant factual errors. Look for my comments under the stories.
New Catholic Church Ready to Take Root This article from July 16, 2008 reports on a groundbreaking ceremony held on church property. The article and two photos suggests the ceremony took place on the site of the Poderosa Parkway extension, or on the site of a church driveway, and probably not at the actual site of the proposed church and school. Despite the groundbreaking ceremony, construction has yet to begin.
New Catholic Church a Community Wide Event Official Sun editorial from July 17, 2008 endorses church building project on mesa, saying local Catholics "have been not only good neighbors but stewards of family and community values" but notes isolated location.
McMillan Mesa not Appropriate for Church In a a letter to the editor published July 23, 2008, Robert Keith asks "why the Catholic church finds it necessary to come in and destroy such an awesome area?"
Keep Development off McMillan Mesa Published Aug. 10, 2008. In a letter to the editor, Vita Parsons supports Robert Keith and says, "I vehemently oppose any development of the mesa. Particularly a church, parking lot, paving, cars and parking lights there."
New Church, School Ready for Vote Published Sept. 17, 2009 This article about the Sept. 15 public hearing before City Council incorrectly states that because of problems with the public notification process, "city planners [recommended] that the hearing be ended." See my extended comments about this article elsewhere on this page.
New Catholic Church too Close to Trail My letter to the editor dated Sept. 7, 2009 tried to alert the community to the threat the church and school project posed to the mesa and the FUTS trail. A version of this letter appears at the top of this page.
Council Gets Church Plans Published Sept. 15, 2009, in advance of and on the same day of a public hearing before the Flagstaff City Council. Attempts to summarize what kind of project is being proposed. Be sure to read the comments under the story.
Supporters of Catholic Church Complex Jam Council Meeting Published Sept. 16, 2009. A very short teaser-story about Sept. 15 public hearing. Story was expanded in a story that appeared on Sept. 17.
New Church, School Ready for Vote Published Sept. 17, 2009. Expands on story above. Be sure to read the comments under the story. My extended comments about this story appear elsewhere on this page.
New Catholic Complex Meets Rezoning Tests Published Sept. 30, 2009. This is another official Sun editorial endorsing the project. The essay understates the height of the school, and suffers from other problems, as noted in my comments that appear under the story.
New Catholic Church, School OKd Published Oct. 7, 2009. Reports about Oct. 6 City Council meeting that included a first vote on the rezoning. Be sure to read the comments under the story.
Above: Looking north from Jiffy Lube parking lot. This is where the proposed extension of Ponderosa Parkway will be built to provide access to proposed church and school. Click images to enlarge.
Above: Looking north along proposed route of Ponderosa Parkway.
Above: Looking north along proposed route of Ponderosa Parkway.
Above: Rocks near area where a driveway will enter the church and school site.
Above: Wood stake marks spot where driveway will enter school and church property.
Above: San Francisco Peaks as seen from near the center of 28- acre parcel proposed for rezoning.
Trees on southern portion of 28-acre parcel proposed for rezoning.
Above: More Trees on the southern portion of 28-acre parcel proposed for rezoning.
Above: Old tree near rocky cliff overlooking Route 66 and Enterprise on southern end of 28-acre parcel proposed for rezoning.
Above: Flagstaff City Council chambers were filled to capacity with some 400 people on Sept. 15, 2009. Most parishioners wore red t-shirts.
Above: In the lobby of Flagstaff City Hall, people stand and sit on the floor to watch City Council hearing on a TV monitor because City Council chambers filled to capacity. Sept. 15, 2009.
Above: Flagstaff Mayor Sara Presler and City Manager Kevin Burke confer about the 190 comment cards filled out at the Sept. 15, 2009 City Council meeting.
Above: I have put about 56 red dots on a map of Flagstaff. (The map is a 1983 edition so many roads are not shown.) Each dot represents the location of a person or family that supports the church and school at the McMillan Mesa location. Addresses were obtained by reviewing letters sent to the Flagstaff City Council. Large red circle represents site of proposed church and school. Large green dot represents location of St. Pius. Even larger red and green circles represent areas within about a half-mile radius of St. Pius and proposed church site. Notice that it appears that at least twice as many supporters live within a half-mile of St. Pius compared to the proposed site on the mesa. This suggests that more people could walk to church if the St. Pius site was redeveloped instead of building on the mesa. 2 Mb PDF
Above: Map of Flagstaff with lines from proposed church and school site extending to locations of about 56 supporters of building on the mesa. The mesa site is said to be centrally located. This map suggests that idea has some truth to it. But the map suggests a point farther south and west might be more centrally located. Is the mesa site more centrally located than, say, Nativity church or St. Mary's school? If a central location is the most important consideration, perhaps these existing downtown facilities should be redeveloped. This is a large file and it may take a moment or two to open. 11 Mb PDF
The above map is adapted from a map that appeared in the publicity pamphlet for the May 18, 2004 Bond Authorization Special Election. Yellow areas are areas that would have been purchased by the City of Flagstaff had Flagstaff voters approved question No. 304, authorizing bonds in the amount of up to $10,100,000. Striped areas might have been resold to recoup some of the cost. The measure failed by a vote of 5,357 for, and 6,050 against (47% to 53%). As a consequence, some of the yellow area has recently had roads and other infrastructure installed on it. I have added a white area at the lower right of the map representing the 28 acres of church property that is proposed for rezoning. I hope this map will clear up some of the confusion surrounding the bond election and its relationship, or lack thereof, to the church property. Click image to open a larger PDF file.
Visit LisaRayner.com to buy "Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains". Lisa Rayner is also the author of "Wild Bread - Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen" and "The Sunny Side of Cooking - Solar cooking and other ecologically friendly cooking methods for the 21st century." All three books are available at her Web site.
Donations will be used to pursue legal action against the city in an effort to force the city to comply with applicable laws, such as laws pertaining to public notification.
Or consider making a purchase from one of our Web sites.
Above: 360 degree panoramic view of an area on the southern end of the 28-acre parcel proposed for rezoning. Maybe the southern end of the parcel would be a better place to build a church and school for a variety of reasons?