Political will—not a game

When we were kids, we loved playing the home version of a tv game show called Concentration, a reveal-remember game. Basically, tiles are arranged in a grid, numbered sequentially, say 1 to 36. Players take turns choosing two numbered tiles to flip, seeking a match. If number 17 reveals a spoon and 4 a bus, no match. Later, when 26 reveals a spoon, if you remember 17 had the other spoon, match and remove the tiles. For obvious reasons, the game gets easier as you get farther along.

Fighting the Hub reminds me of that game. Early clues seemed to point to a developer who wasn’t following the rules. When hundreds of people showed up at the Planning and Zoning Commission hearings, which took place 4 days after the staff report had been publicly released, the basis of our argument was that the Hub was just wrong, that the commissioners should see that, and deny it. We had two clues that we hadn’t put together yet: errors in the staff report which we had yet to digest, and information about how the city attorney had advised the commissioners. We lost the P&Z round.

By the time everyone showed up en mass at city council hearings, we’d digested the staff report clues and successfully made the argument that it was in error. With the help of the supermajority petition, the Hub 1 was denied. But we knew Hub 2 was coming.

When Hub 2 was approved by city staff as expected, we appealed their decision to the Board of Adjustment. Our argument continued to be that staff had erred in their findings, and we added additional clues about the specific ways they had erred. But we hadn’t fully addressed another clue: the fear of litigation that the city attorney and the developer presented. And so we weren’t successful arguing this before the board. But we knew the next step was superior court.

We’re now only partway through the process of uncovering and matching clues. We can still only guess exactly how the Hub happened. But we know that the developer only did what developers do: look for ways to get what they wanted. The developers are experienced with this type of battle, which they’ve fought in other communities. They have the benefit of deep pockets, promises of high profits, and complete concentration. Early on, before we knew we were even involved in a game, they’d been working city staff. And even if we prevail at superior court, we expect a Hub 3.

Clues we saw early in the process make it hard to believe that city staff didn’t understand the intention of the zoning code. So why did they respond to the Hub the way they did? Did they feel pressure from the city attorney to avoid potential litigation? Yet the notion that the city attorney—or some other person behind a curtain pulling levers—also doesn't sound correct. So at this point, what the clues point to is a lack of political will.

The intelligent, well-educated, involved citizens of Flagstaff have proved their ability to create regulations and policies that are clear and concise in their intention. The failure to carry out those regulations and policies we saw with the Hub didn’t begin with city staff, planners or attorneys. It began with the leadership guiding the direction those professionals take in their work.

Stand Up for Flagstaff is a non-profit corporation that does not endorse political candidates. We do, however, encourage citizens to ask their candidates what steps they're willing to take to preserve our vision for Flagstaff.

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