Commission denies prison request

KINGMAN - Two requests by Gateway Lots LLC to pave the way for a future prison in Dolan Springs were denied by the Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday.

The first vote was 6-1 to deny Gateway Lots' request for a minor amendment to the Mohave County General Plan, with Commissioner Joe Bibich the sole dissenting vote. The second vote, to deny a subsequent rezone of land to the west of U.S. Highway 93 between Fifth Street and Seventh Street from Agricultural-Residential to General Manufacturing, was unanimous.

Following a number of impassioned pleas made by several Dolan Springs residents and their representatives, Commissioner Rodney Burgess made the motion to deny Gateway Lots' requests, stating that the county already had one prison and didn't need another. He also said the county didn't need a prison to house prisoners from outside of Arizona, referring to an earlier request made by Corrections Corporation of America to build a prison on the opposite side of Highway 93, a request that had been denied by the Board of Supervisors in February.

"We don't have to house the prisoners for America," Burgess said to applause from the assembly. "I don't believe we need a prison environment to raise our children. We don't need to have this one, and another one, and another one. We need to stop this, and I don't believe I can support this at all."

Commissioner Syd Ervin seconded the motion, conceding the need for prisons but voicing his opposition to privately-owned prisons, again referring to the prison originally planned for the east side of U.S. Highway 93.

"Our society definitely has a need for prisons," Ervin said. "However, I have a very serious philosophical problem with private prisons. They are quite different from the ones owned by the government, and for that reason, I cannot support this."

Citizen complaints against the prison requests were numerous and varied. One resident of Dolan Springs, John Ford, raised concerns about the amount of water a prison in the area would use and the potential repercussions.

"I do worry about my children, my grandchildren - they're the one's who have to live after we make the mess," Ford said. "The people do not want it. They have denied it before."

Mark Sippel, an attorney speaking on behalf of property owner William Bonano, urged commissioners not to approve the minor plan amendment, as it could frustrate the efforts of the county staff working on the Highway 93 Corridor Plan, highlighting the problem a prison could pose to the scenic route designation in the area plan.

"The staff recommendations talk about a view-obscuring fence," Sippel said. "We're going to talk guard towers. We're going to talk lights. We're going to talk barbed wire.

"There's going to be a zone around there that's going to kill property owners," Sippel later added. "People just won't want to be there."

Another resident, Mark Mielke, pointed to the February denial, noting that it was "just across the street" from the site of Wednesday's proposals. Yet another resident, Susan Bayer, said she was worried at what, exactly, would end up on the property were it rezoned.

"No one has stated what will be in this correctional facility," Bayer said. "It could be a maximum-security, it could be a supermax."

Kathy Tackett-Hicks of KTH Consulting spoke on behalf of the property owners. Following the commission's first vote, Tackett-Hicks told commissioners that Gateway Lots was only seeking the rezone for a future general prison project, clarifying that Wednesday's requests were not the same as the ones denied in February.

"Your conditions of approval can indicate that if you did not want it to be private, it would not have to be, this is simply a site for correctional facility purpose," she said. "In addition, you can also limit this on in-state inmates. This is not the same as our last proposal."

The clarification came too late, however, as the denial of the minor amendment request effectively quashed any hope of getting the rezone passed.

The commission's decisions will go before the Board of Supervisors on June 2