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Huge Yavapai Ranch housing development plan goes to supervisors Monday

PRESCOTT – Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Chair Tom Thurman says he will vote against the application for 12,500 homes and 95 acres of commercial development on the remote 51,000-acre Yavapai Ranch if the board doesn’t add requirements for the development.

The supervisors are scheduled to hear the request at 9:30 a.m. Monday during their regular meeting at 1015 Fair St. in Prescott. The request also includes a county general plan amendment.

The public can comment before the supervisors vote. Extensive background materials for the meeting are available on the county’s website at Yavapai.us.

Thurman said he wants to see the Yavapai Ranch land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service become a reality before the development, so homes don’t permanently landlock 50,000 acres of the Prescott National Forest into a checkerboard pattern of public and private land sections about 30 miles north of Prescott.

“With the way that would be checkerboarded, that would not be usable at all,” Thurman said, referring to public use of the 50,000 acres of the Prescott Forest.

The county planning commission narrowly recommended approval of the development last month on a 5-4 vote. The commission granted ranch owner Fred Ruskin all his requests for waivers of road improvement requirements, while failing to include any requests from county road officials, other government agencies and opponents related to roads and wildlife protection.

“I’d vote it down as it is now,” Thurman said Thursday. For example, he’d like to see improvements to the primitive roads and requirements to help wildlife such as antelope-friendly fencing.

However, he said he was not inclined to delay the supervisors’ vote until January when it moves to a five-person board instead of three.

Several speakers at the planning commission meeting, including Supervisor-Elect Craig Brown, asked for such a delay. Brown’s district includes the Yavapai Ranch, and he has expressed opposition to the development proposal.

Some of the five supportive commissioners said they like the fact that the ranch owners are proposing only half the homes than the current two-acre zoning allows.

Opponents voiced concerns about water use and roads, saying the proposal is vague on these plans. Part of the ranch is located in the Big Chino Aquifer that supplies most of the base flow for the Upper Verde River, but the proposal includes no information about water use.

Thurman said he has talked to Yavapai Ranch owner Fred Ruskin and Prescott National Forest Supervisor Betty Mathews about his desire to see the land exchange back on the table.

The ranch is surrounded by 36-acre home sites, another huge ranch and the Prescott National Forest including a wilderness area.

Development of the Yavapai Ranch under the current proposal could permanently landlock nearly 80 separate 640-acre sections of the Prescott National Forest totaling as many as 50,000 acres.

The checkerboard land ownership previously led Ruskin to propose the largest land exchange in Arizona history, but then he canceled it several years after congressional approval because he couldn’t have control over the land appraisal process.

Proposed wind farm

Ruskin, a retired Paradise Valley dentist, also says he wants to build Arizona’s largest wind farm on about 5,000 acres of the ranch, with 81 lighted towers that are 436 feet tall, electrical transmission lines and towers, and 35 miles of new roads. He said he wants solar panels on 160 acres, too.

The county supervisors approved that plan and an amendment to the county general plan on Sept. 6, 2011, but it was contingent upon Ruskin submitting a final site plan within one year and he never did that.

Instead, he’s seeking an extension of the approval with extra years. He wants four years to submit a final site plan instead of the current one year; five years instead of two years to get building permits; and eight years to get a certificate of compliance instead of five years.

That request goes to the county planning commission at its 9:30 a.m. Wednesday meeting at 1015 Fair St. in Prescott. The commission also will accept public comment.

Government agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department also requested several requirements to protect wildlife in that project, but none were included in the county approvals.

The wind towers and part of the housing development would be located on prime pronghorn antelope grassland habitat that agencies have been trying to conserve and improve, as private grasslands continue to develop into housing tracts throughout Central Yavapai County.

Those grasslands would become part of the Prescott National Forest in the land exchange bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain and approved by then-president George Bush back in 2005.