Clarkdale Council approves substation re-zoning
CLARKDALE — By a 4-1 vote Tuesday, Arizona Public Service cleared perhaps its biggest hurdle in its plan to install a substation in Clarkdale.
With Vice Mayor Richard Dehnert as the lone opponent, Clarkdale’s Council and mayor heard from six members of the community before approving a zoning change that clears the way for APS to take its substation plan to the Design Review Board.
The visual blight of overhead power lines and electromagnetic fields were the two main reasons citizens mentioned in discouraging council from approving the re-zoning, in public meetings this spring and summer and in letters to the Verde Independent.
Tuesday’s vote, taken in front of a crowd that was larger than the Men's Lounge meeting room's capacity, marked a milestone in a process in which APS personnel went before the Clarkdale Planning Commission twice, which finally sent the project to Council with a set of conditions put in place.
“When I was first elected to Council, I was told ‘Remember who sent you here, and what they sent you here to do,’” Dehnert said, explaining his dissenting vote. “I agree with the idea that zoning should mean something. I’m in favor of a substation in our area. I just think there are more appropriate routes it could take through town.”
APS purchased a parcel of land along the stretch of State Road 89A that leads toward Jerome, less than one-half mile uphill from the roundabout that joins 89A’s Jerome and Cottonwood-bound segments with Clarkdale Parkway and Cement Plant Road. It’s between the roundabout and Old Jerome Highway and is next to a site where a planned future fire station will be placed, which is next to a convenience store that sits along the roundabout.
Mayor Doug Van Gausig dismissed concerns raised about electromagnetic fields, saying he and the council had delved into the topic during other proposed projects in the past and found substations and power poles are not a health concern.
Scott Buckley, the council member who lives closest to the site, said he believes there is no safety risk to him or his family from the power supply or equipment.
Dehnert reminded Tuesday’s APS presenter, Community Franchise and Outreach Consultant Kendra Lee, that she previously mentioned a study had been done regarding real estate in the Clarkdale area and its suitability for a substation. However, Dehnert said, he was told the study was “not available” and the person who created it was no longer with their employer. He said he was also surprised to learn that a power substation, a structure one might expect to find in an industrial space, is not actually permitted to be constructed in an industrial zone in Clarkdale, according to town regulations.
“There are many things like that we need to re-examine this year,” Dehnert said.
A couple of those who spoke in opposition to the plan agreed with Dehnert that original zoning was done carefully with a master plan in mind, and re-zoning should only be done in extreme and rare circumstances. However, Von Gausig didn’t agree, pointing out that humans aren’t perfect at things like zoning, and needs and use of nearby space affect many zoning decisions.
“Re-zoning depends, partly, on what the alternatives are,” Von Gausig said. “Leaving it as residential, there were intended to be nine home parcels in that space; is anyone really going to build nine houses in that awkward space, next to a state highway? And if it were full commercial, would the folks who live higher up want to look down on a commercial building, and see the roof of a big commercial building and its HVAC units?”
Ryan Weed of CVL Consultants, who has made numerous trips to Clarkdale this year as part of the re-zoning process, pointed out that construction of the substation will take place prior to a fire station being constructed next door (the fire station site plan is approved; construction of the station has not yet been funded), so the two-address driveway APS will need to construct will give the fire station a head start, giving it paved access to State Road 89A.
Other amenities APS promises to deliver are a social trail, native-growth landscaping and 10-foot block walls that can be used as mural canvases.
The only one of the councilors who voted in favor of the re-zoning to express any conflicted impressions was Bill Regner. He echoed the sentiments expressed by the citizens who framed APS as a publicly traded subsidiary of a corporation that places profit as its top priority, pointing out its profitability amid state-approved rate increases.
“You kind of hurt yourselves with some of your statewide activities, and your credibility issues make it harder for us here in Clarkdale,” Regner said. “I wish that you (APS) weren’t doing that.”
Regner also pointed out that he’d lived around power lines and substations growing up, and never thought much about it.
The entire re-zoning process might have been avoided had APS received correct information from town staff in the first place. Prior to purchasing the parcel, APS inquired with Clarkdale as to whether it could build a substation in that spot without re-zoning, and was told that it could.
By the time the need for re-zoning was detected, APS had already purchased the land, so abandoning the project from that point forward would require selling a parcel it had obtained for the expressed purpose of building a substation.
“A mistake was made, and not all zoning is correct, even if it’s had a designation for years,” Regner said. “Do we proactively look at all zoning that’s not in transition, and ask ourselves if it’s correct? No, we don’t do that. But as we go ahead without master planning in the year ahead — which we invite the public to participate in — maybe that’s something we should add.”