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PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE: Unexpected rewards

Serving as President of the Big Park Council has presented some unexpected rewards. Rather surprisingly, one of the most gratifying was attending the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing regarding the Use and Expansion Plans of Verde Valley School. You probably recall the public concern and outcry when these plans were first made public. The school held a public meeting that did not go well, to say the least.

The neighborhoods nearest the school then held their own meetings to oppose what they feared would be unrelenting traffic on Verde Valley School Road, endangering hikers and bicyclists; noise and fire hazards from a campground across the road open to the public; or loud concerts in a proposed amphitheater.

In late November, Big Park Council Planning and Zoning Committee Chair David Gill worked with the Verde Valley School administration to improve their communication with their neighbors. Dialog began and the school revised their Conditional Use Permit application, in which they eliminated the amphitheater, reduced the number and location of the the campsites, affirmed that the campsites were not to be available to the public. The school affirmed that fires have never been allowed on campus for the safety of the campus and the adjoining Coconino National Forest land. VVS made a number of other adjustments to the application.

On March 9, the Big Park Council was advised of the progress that had been made and voted only to request that the Permit be made non-transferrable so the community could weigh in on any future significant changes to the Permit, such as a change in ownership of the property.

On March 13, just three days before the scheduled hearing, a final Zoom meeting was held, that I witnessed, between VVS and the nearest neighborhood association. The remaining items of concern such as traffic management, parking and fire mitigation, and screening were worked out in an amicable manner acceptable to both parties.

At the March 16 hearing, the Planning and Zoning Commissioners questioned the VVS officials and their architect in great detail concerning their plans. VVS explained how these plans represent a long-term vision for the school and changes will not occur overnight. Many people spoke, both in support and in opposition to the application.

Ultimately the Commission voted unanimously to approve the revised Conditional Use Permit application and made it non-transferable. At the conclusion of the hearing there was palpable satisfaction expressed by people on both sides of this issue. Even people that had spoken on opposing sides of the issue were greeting one another.

So why am I writing so positively about this experience? I mean no one that left that hearing room got everything that they wanted. Verde Valley School had made many significant concessions after they understood their neighbor’s concerns. Homeowners in the neighborhood heard and understood how the school would attempt to mitigate their concerns as the plans gradually become reality.

This is how business in the public arena should occur. There doesn’t have to be winners and losers. There doesn’t have to be arguing and shouting. Serious listening, trying to understand the other party’s perspective, engaging in give and take…that is how communities like ours can thrive. Compromise is not a dirty word. It is maturity. It is wise. Compromise can benefit all of us. Pass it on.

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