KINGMAN - The Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission narrowly passed a review of the Mohave County General Plan Wednesday. The Commission voted 5 to 4, with Chairman Carl Flusche casting the deciding vote, to recommend the changes to the Board of Supervisors. The plan may go before the Board of Supervisors in November.
"We're hoping to ease the (planning and zoning) process and give a clearer picture (of what the county expects) to businesses and developers (wanting to move into the county,)" Flusche said.
The General Plan gives developers, businesses and the public guidelines on how land may be used in the county. The idea is to help control growth and development in the county. The county started reviewing the plan in January of this year.
Wednesday's commission decision didn't come without a few hours of heated discussion and comments from the public.
"This General Plan is an insult," said resident Susan Bayer. The plan had no provisions for fire, safety, air quality or water in it. "What you've done is throw families under the bus," she said.
"This wasn't a review, it was a rewrite," said resident Denise Bensusan. "It looks like a strategic and purposeful dismantling of the protections of this plan."
Of particular concern was the membership of the technical advisory committee that studied the plan and suggested the changes. Many residents felt that the people picked for the committee - many of whom had backgrounds in engineering, real estate and business - had an interest in changing the General Plan to fit their needs.
Resident Jim Kanelos said he filled out an application to be on the committee and was denied because he didn't have the right qualifications.
Bensusan and Bayer both protested the fact that the committee members were appointed by County Manager Ron Walker and the county didn't put out a call for volunteers from the public.
Bensusan suggested that the same group of people were starting to show up on a number of committees.
"These decisions were put in the hands of the few," said Butch Martin. "Private interests should not carry more weight than the public."
"This is something that will affect all of the public, but the county doesn't want public input," argued resident Wayne Smith.
"What about a resident-friendly plan? This is weakened to such an extent that the residents have no protections."
The members of the committee were asked to be on the committee, they didn't volunteer, Flusche said. The county was looking for people that dealt with the General Plan on a daily basis such as developers, county planning and zoning commissioners, engineers and real estate agents.
"It's not like we raised our hands," he said.
"The General Plan is a guideline. It's mostly going to be used by outside businesses and developers," Commissioner Mehdi Azarmi said.
"This General Plan is very weak. There're very few defensive actions regarding water. Where is the public input?" asked resident Jana Selk. She asked why the public comments submitted during the four public meetings and through the county's website were not included in the draft of the revised plan.
Planning and Zoning Manager Christine Ballard explained that all of the comments, along with the draft, were in the packet given to the commissioners and the Board of Supervisors. The commissioners and the supervisors were free to make changes to the draft using the comments gathered from the public if they wanted.
Resident Mark Shaver asked what happened to the requirement for a citizens committee to review the General Plan. The county had a citizens committee when the plan was reviewed in 2005, but not this time, he pointed out.
County Planner Kevin Davidson explained that the department felt that the citizen's committee needed more guidance, so a technical advisory committee was formed in 2005.
Then the two committees were combined in 2010 because of the short timeline to get the review done, he said. The people picked for the committee were chosen because of their expertise in certain land use areas.
Several residents asked that the approval process be halted and restarted so that more public input could be gathered.
Several residents raised concerns about the protection of the county's water sources. County officials have said numerous times that the county has no authority over how much water a land owner can use and that that authority belongs to the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Bayer said the director of ADWR, Herb Guenther, told her that the department had no authority over the use of water unless the county was in an Active Management Area.
Active Management Areas are areas where developers must prove a 100-year water supply before they can build. Mohave County does not sit in an AMA.
According to state statute, the county has the right to consider the use of water if it affects the health, safety or welfare of the public, Bayer said.
"ADWR is in Phoenix, It's understaffed and under-funded. Will they even be able to serve this area?" asked resident Jana Selk. "I would like to think that the county has the authority to guide the types of businesses that want to move into Mohave County."
Commissioner Bill Abbott asked county staff if the county had that legal right.
County Attorney Bob Taylor said state statute allows the county to take water into consideration when making a decision on land in the county.
The county does not have the authority to control how much water a property owner can use, he said.
The Arizona Growing Smart plan also does not require the county to have specific regulations regarding water in the General Plan, he said. It only requires the county to have a plan regarding the location, source and use of the county's water, Taylor added.
The county can't require proof of a 100-year water supply from developers unless the county creates an AMA, Taylor said.
"I think we have some control (over this,)" Abbott said.
Bensusan asked whether one General Plan policy that currently requires power plants to use dry-cooling technology if an aquifer is in depletion was rewritten to accommodate the new solar plants.
Local development consultant Cathy Tackett-Hicks, who was a member of the committee, said one of the goals of the committee was to remove mandates from the plan that the county couldn't realistically meet, such as requiring water in perpetuity.
It's not that the county shouldn't pursue goals or encourage the protection of water or the environment, but it wasn't feasible with the way it was written in the old plan, she said. Perhaps it could encourage conservation through new building codes, Tackett-Hicks suggested.
Are people going to want to move here knowing there are no protections for the environment, water or historical aspects of the county, resident Debra Martin asked. These changes may benefit the county in the short-term by bringing in new business, but it may end up costing the county in the long run.
"Many people moved here for the quality of life. The county should use zoning to protect that," said resident Butch Martin. If the residents can't expect the protection provided by zoning, then no one will want to move to the county and the businesses and growth will dry up.
Many residents questioned the amount of public input the county sought while reviewing the plan. The county held four public meetings in March in Kingman, Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City and in the Arizona Strip.
Another question raised by residents at the meeting was why the county didn't stop the review of the plan after the Arizona Legislature passed HB 2125. The law allows counties to put off reviews or updates to their general plans until 2015. The idea is to save counties money during the economic downturn.
"This was supposed to be an update. You're making changes that are not in the best interest of the people. You're selling out to business," said resident Fredrick Williams.
Abbott agreed, there were so many changes that he wasn't sure he understood them all and what their ramifications might be. He asked for more time to review the changes before the commission voted on the issue.
He said that, "A tremendous amount of work has gone into this, but this should be re-looked at. I think it's a complete rewrite."
"We have to have a realistic guide for local and outside developers. This one is more realistic then the one before," Azarmi countered.
The commission then voted to recommend the changes to the Board. The earliest the Board will consider the issue is November.