For many locals, Tusayan development debate revolves around housing

Feb 28, 2012

Sheryl Strobeck is the office manager of an RV campground in the tiny town of Tusayan.  Since moving here eight years ago, she’s worked at most of the businesses in town.

But every time her job changes, her home address changes too.

That’s because all of the housing in Tusayan is owned by companies who rent it to their employees.

“You can’t live here unless you work here," she says. "There’s nothing to rent here unless you are employed. Nothing.”

And that’s why Strobeck supports the Stilo Development Group’s plans.

In addition to stores, restaurants and hotels, the Italian developer has also proposed to build private homes in Tusayan.

Stilo’s also pledged to donate 40 acres to the town and to build infrastructure for a public housing complex.

Strobeck believes she and her husband could afford to rent or buy a home there when they retire.

“We’re in our fifties," she says. "We have to think about what we’ll do when we’re not working. We’ve put down roots and we want to stay.”

Strobeck believes the Tusayan Town Council was following the will of the voters when it approved Stilo’s development plan last fall.

But since then the plan’s opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum.

Stilo has sued, claiming that voters who signed petitions were misled.

This week, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Joe Lodge is scheduled to consider whether the development plan can move forward or must be decided by voters.

The courtroom is the latest setting in a decade-long saga over how much development will be allowed near the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Clarinda Vail is a local business owner whose family owns much of the private land in Tusayan.

She says the plans – a dude ranch, hotels, acres of retail and dining space, second homes and RV campgrounds,  are all unsustainable – both economically and environmentally.

“It’s the largest development proposed in Northern Arizona in a very long time," Vail says. "Whether or not the market can handle it is unknown. Whether there is the water to supply it is unknown.”  

The National Park Service, nearby Native American tribes, environmentalists and many townspeople also have concerns with the plan.

On the other side are the Italian developers and their business partner Elling Halvorson who is another large landowner in Tusayan.

Halvorson is a partner with Stilo on one in-town development.

Stilo plans to develop two other properties outside the town boundaries, which the Town Council recently annexed and rezoned.

Clarinda Vail says the company has used the promise of private housing as a carrot to persuade voters.

“Locally they are trying to promote that 40 acres that the town is getting residentially as the whole reason that this is a good idea."

She says the town council has not looked at other workforce housing options, because most of the town council works for Halvorson.

Mayor Greg Bryan works for Halvorson and rejects Vail’s assertion that his employer pressured him to vote in favor of the development plan.

“We’re out for housing for our people," he says. "Yes there is commercial development associated with it, but you can’t stay in status quo. Status quo is a company housing town with no roots, and no potential to have roots.”

If the Superior Court rules the petition was valid, voters will decide for themselves in May what they think of the plan.

Otherwise, plans for the development will continue to move ahead.