Council, public question Rhodes' letter of consent

Councilwoman Janet Watson wasn't content with what was "inferred" in a letter that would have granted Rhodes Homes the city's approval for a 5,000-acre master-planned community proposed in Golden Valley.

State law requires that the city, because it owns six one-acre parcels inside the Pravada project, give the go-ahead to the Las Vegas-based developer before Rhodes seeks further approval with the county government.

The letter of consent would have provided several assurances to the sites, but after a half-dozen residents spoke on the issue Monday and several Council members expressed their own concerns, Council decided against granting consent.

In a split 4-3 vote, Council moved to postpone action until the Feb. 18 Council meeting. Watson and Councilmen Tom Carter and Kerry Deering led the push for the postponement.

"I personally have a lot of questions that have been raised," Deering said. He asked that City Attorney Carl Cooper ensure both that the value of the city's sites doesn't depreciate and that the city doesn't lose rights to its water.

"The thing is, we need to make sure whatever we sign, whatever we go forward with, there aren't any loopholes - that they can't come back to do anything to our property, our water rights in that whole area. And ... I don't agree with Scott Dunton on a lot of points, but he's right - we're here to protect our future."

Rhodes critic speaks out

Dunton had taken nearly 15 minutes to voice concerns with the project - and not just the city's involvement on the well site side of it. He's one of many in the community to accuse Jim Rhodes of making a water grab in Mohave County, a topic of debate following an article by local reporter Dave Hawkins highlighting the fact that Rhodes has as many as 305,000 residential lots planned for development in the general Kingman area.

Dunton, an outspoken critic of Rhodes following a sour land deal and subsequent court trial last fall, accused the developer of drafting a specific zoning plan - or "special" zoning plan, according to Dunton - that would give Rhodes the authority to abandon county roads, condemn property and generally remove the county's oversight of the project.

"I don't think that's where you want to go with this deal," he said.

Rhodes Homes Vice President Chris Stephens said after the meeting that he would have to go through the transcripts from the meeting to address some of the points made, many of which he said were without merit.

In the end, Dunton asked that the city put the sites back out to bid for at least $401,000 - the amount Rhodes submitted in a late bid last spring.

We are all

grandchildren

Local Realtor Donna Crouse voiced support for the Pravada plans, reading prepared comments to Council. She noted how in the last year the community has learned how much the city-owned well sites are worth - "far more than what we ever imagined," and she voiced support for the project as a whole.

"This is what people refer to as an investment for their grandchildren. And we, fortunately, get to be those grandchildren," she said.

Because Rhodes has pledged to put in the infrastructure for water, Crouse said the city would end up saving money 10 or 20 years in the future when or if it decides to drill into the Sacramento Basin.

GV resident

warning

Golden Valley resident Susan Bayer warned city officials that if they're not careful, Kingman may lose its rights to drill in the area, as has been the result for residents in the Golden Valley improvement district near Rhodes' master-planned community following the developer's acquisition of water allotments from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

"This has nothing to do with development," she said. "This is your water. You have the right to protect your water, and that's what I think you really should be concerned about." The question is availability, she said.

"Is there enough water in your Hualapai aquifer to hold this?" Bayer asked of the possible 305,000 lots that will need servicing. "It's fine to say we're here to do all this, but it's turning out to be about water. It always has been, and I hope that you at least have the foresight to see you might need this water" from the Sacramento basin, she said.

Council concerns

Councilman Carter said he was curious about the timing of Rhodes bringing the letter to Council. "Getting this on the agenda right before they go to the county bothers me." But it was Watson's comments that seemed to sway the mayor into the majority.

"This is kind of a matter of trust," she said. "In the beginning, they graded over our property ... The second thing was the well sites were worth nothing. That's not exactly true. So I don't trust that. Now I'm wondering (why) they never told us - until Mr. (Loyd) Peterson told us - about us having a right of approving their specific zoning plan before they took it to the county. Did Rhodes ever tell us that? No ... That's three strikes."

Watson also was skeptical about putting the city's stamp of approval on a specific zoning plan that the city attorney admittedly had not read. Secondly, she pointed out that it was not specified that the letter of consent would be null and void if the zoning plan were to change while going through the county approval processes.

She noted as well the lack of specifics as to whether or not the city had a right to drill wells on the parcels and said it was not clear whether or not a future owner would be able to drill.

Cooper said the agreement would go with the land, but when Watson asked if that was spelled out, Cooper said, "No. It's not going to be spelled out; it's going to be inferred." That stirred the crowd inside the packed Council Chambers.

Cooper was directed to review the transcripts of the two-and-a-half-hour debate and either validate or disprove the handful of allegations made by several members of the community who questioned the 25,000-home development.

Mayor Les Byram joined the three to give them a majority and postpone the approval, but Vice Mayor Dave French and Councilmen Tom Spear and Ray Lyons all were ready to give their consent.

Lyons said he'd read the specific zoning plan and saw nothing wrong with it.

Spear said he took issue with the vilification of Rhodes and said, "I don't really think it is in the city's best interest or the citizens best interest to keep this thing hanging fire for ever and ever and ever."

And French said the letter met everything that the city had asked of Rhodes and the well site issue after deciding last year not to sell them.

Council will hold another public hearing on the issue Feb. 18 in Council Chambers, 310 N. Fourth St. In the meantime, updates will be provided about some of the concerns noted Monday by several parties.