By Lynne LaMaster
One council member calls the request ‘extortion’
Mark Stevenson owns a piece of land with an undeniably ugly old office building on it. He wanted to build something lovely for the residents and vistors of Sedona, Arizona.
“Our vision is to create an aesthetically enhanced restaurant that combines Community, Sustainability, Artistry, and Beauty, where both local residents and visitors alike can meet and enjoy “bella cocina” (beautiful cuisine) with dramatic views of the red rocks during the day and the stars at night,” reads the cover letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
In order for that vision to come to pass, Stevenson needed a zoning change from Office Professional (OP) to General Commercial District (C-1). Stevenson and his team worked diligently with the City of Sedona’s staff and committees to ensure that Sedona’s rigid specifications were met, and finally arrived at the last hurdle: Approval from the Sedona City Council.
So, it must have come as a surprise when during the discussion of the project, Mayor Rob Adams stated, “In my experience with doing development agreements, or zoning changes, or community plan updates, this is our opportunity, particularly in the zoning change process to negotiate community benefits in exchange for the entitlements.”
How much of a community benefit? Adams’ idea was a $500,000 donation to the City of Sedona in exchange for the zoning change.
Really? Yes. A $500,000 ‘in lieu fee’ that the “…City could utilize to provide benefits to whatever we come up with.” And, evidently, this practice is commonplace in the City of Sedona, although typically the requests for fees and ‘community benefits’ are handled in smaller, less public settings.
Mayor Adams was bold in making his request, “I would like to hear you say, ‘I’m willing to put up a reasonable amount of money, considering the fact that when I do get that zoning change, we know that the value of property is going to be increased fairly significantly from an OP to a C1.’ So, I’d just like to have an offer from you and see if we could say that we all feel good about that and sing KumBayAh.”
When Stevenson heard the amount Adams had in mind, his response was quick and clear, “That, we’re out.”
From there, the conversation continued, until finally one council member used the word, “extortion.”