It’s not uncommon for residents to turn out in force at a Sedona City Council meeting to talk in opposition to a plan or project. But that wasn’t the case on Oct. 25.
During council’s six-hour meeting regarding four proposed Major Community Plan Amendments, more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the city increasing the density of the number of multifamily units per acre.
Council voted 6-1 to do just that, increasing the number from 12 units to an uncapped number. However, any developer seeking an amount larger than 12 will still have to go through the lengthy plan amendment and zoning process.
Council voted 7-0 in favor of both a request from Sedona Hard Cider and the development of a 45-unit apartment complex on Pinon Drive, while voting 6-1 to deny a request from Son Silver West [see above story on this page]. Councilman John Currivan was the lone dissenting vote on both amendments.
The purpose of the city’s amendment request was to create a multifamily, high-density designation allowing for more than 12 dwelling units per acre for development project. This will provide strategies for achieving housing diversity, affordability and availability in order to address local housing needs.
Senior Planner Mike Raber said there is a great need for workforce housing in Sedona, as apartments make up just under 4 percent of the overall housing market. And in terms of density, Sedona’s 12 units per acre is less than half of what’s allowed in Cottonwood and Flagstaff.
“While the housing market in Sedona has been tight, in the past, the demand has been able to be met through the existing housing stock, with houses being rented out as long-term rentals to the local workforce,” a city report states. “However, with the state’s passage of Senate Bill 1350 in 2016 [effective January 2017], much of that rental housing stock was converted into short-term rentals, further taxing the local housing market.”
Many of those who spoke in favor of increasing density were made up of business owners, managers and school administrators who all said they are having a difficult time finding and keeping employees due to the lack of available and affordable housing in Sedona.
“The biggest impediment is that there is no affordable housing,” said Ed Conway, who manages more than 100 employees at the Sedona Rouge. “We’re seeing the same issue with people getting kicked out of apartments, that are being turned into short-term rentals. They either have to quit the job or move to another city.”
Ron Martinez, co-owner of a local construction company, said he employs more than 40 people, many of whom commute in from other communities, adding to the traffic issues.
“We want housing options for those who serve us in the local businesses, teach our kids and grandkids, those who protect us and our first responders and their families,” he said. “As a business owner, it is so difficult to retain and obtain employees who can come and live in this town.”
Like others, Sedona-Oak Creek School District’s communications director Jennifer Chilton said they are often turned down by potential applicants because of the lack of affordable housing.
“I’m here to highlight the important connection between the availability of housing and the quality of local education,” she said. “Each year we advertise, recruit, interview and try and hire talented professional educators to join our faculties. Teachers want to teach in our very desirable Verde Valley schools but far too often they are unable to be our much-needed, highly talented teachers and school employees of all types. Housing options are scarce and expensive everywhere in this region.”
Jenn Thompson, a local massage therapist, spoke about the struggles of wanting to live where one works.
“While I agree that every property owner has the right to do as they wish with their property [in terms of short-term vacation conversions], there is little left for the workers to rent and they are leaving town, affecting our economy,” she said. “I have been told to move to Cottonwood, Rimrock, etc., which is offensive to me, especially coming from those who do not work here.”
In regard to the 45-unit apartment complex, senior planner Cari Meyer said the project was contingent on the city's high-density amendment being approved.
In regard to the project, she said the developer has agreed to no short-term vacation rentals, no condominium conversions, a minimum of 90-day lease and priority given to 25 units to local workforce.
Meyer also said that since the property is zoned for commercial use, businesses that could be built there include restaurants/bars, fast food restaurants, bowling alleys, theaters, supermarkets and gas stations.