Forest deals huge blow to development outside Grand Canyon

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2016 7:50 PM
Forest deals huge blow to development outside Grand Canyon

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has dealt a huge blow to a company that wants to build hundreds of homes, high-end boutiques and five-star hotels just outside Grand Canyon National Park.

The Kaibab National Forest on Friday rejected an application for a road easement that developers needed to move forward with the project in Tusayan, a small town a couple miles from the park's South Rim entrance.

Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio said the project is deeply controversial and opposed by most of the tens of thousands of people who commented on it. She said the envisioned development would "substantially and adversely" affect the Grand Canyon and nearby tribal lands.

Environmentalists applauded the decision and said they're hopeful it will put a permanent stop to plans by Stilo Development Group USA. They've said the growth would mar the beauty of the region and stress resources.

"This is just not the right place for it," said Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice.

Developers have sought for decades to seize on the heavy traffic in Tusayan, bringing forth proposals that would boost the population of about 600 in Tusayan and attempt to lure even more tourists.

Stilo spokesman Andy Jacobs said the company is disappointed but willing to address concerns over water sources, the scope of the project, and the impacts on infrastructure and visitation at Grand Canyon National Park. He and the town said they weren't given that opportunity.

Provencio said the town's application didn't meet screening criteria but even if it did, she likely would have rejected it because "there is significant evidence the proposal is not in the public interest." She said the town could reapply once numerous concerns are addressed.

Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain said the Forest Service should have given the application fair consideration.

The forest's decision also means that Tusayan cannot move forward with plans for affordable housing on land once owned by Stilo and completely surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest. The Town Council approved the creation of a housing authority and bylaws this week, said Mayor Craig Sanderson.

"We're in the middle of pushing forward in anticipation of being able to utilize the land that we own and with this decision, it puts that on its heels," he said. "Where do we go now?"