Council split on uptown revitalization

By Bob Hembree
Posted 5/29/24

The Page City Council, one member short since Theresa Lee’s resignation, split 3-3 over accepting a winning contractor’s bid. This is the third time council failed to make a decision on …

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Council split on uptown revitalization


The Page City Council, one member short since Theresa Lee’s resignation, split 3-3 over accepting a winning contractor’s bid. This is the third time council failed to make a decision on the phase one Lake Powell Boulevard revitalization contract. The one-block project was previously budgeted and approved by council.  

Postponed decisions in previous meetings were attributed to a pending court ruling by Councilor David Auge and Vice Mayor John Kocjan. A group of citizens attempted to stop the project by petitioning for a ballot measure. The petition was rejected and not forwarded to the county by the city because the petition’s wording was unreasonably restrictive and didn’t meet constitutional prerequisites.

Debra Roundtree, who circulated the petition, formed the Page Action Committee (PAC) and filed a lawsuit against the City of Page. A two-hour hearing presided [over] by Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols was held April 18. As of May 22, Judge Nichols had not announced a decision.

At this time, it’s not clear who is financing PAC and a presumably expensive lawsuit. At the May 22 Page City Council Meeting, Councilor Brian Carey said, “I also would take issue that a project that will benefit the entire city can be held hostage by two, three business owners.”

The Chronicle learned Roundtree is attempting to recall Mayor Bill Diak and all council members except Vice Mayor Kocjan.

 “Councilor Augie also mentions, as did one of our speakers from the audience, that there was a court case to have the city enjoined and make sure that we pass the signatures along to the county for counting that is still in the court,” said Carey. “I'm limited as to what I can say in terms of that, just so that we don't construe what I say as the position of the city. But I will say one thing on that. In my reading of that initiative, I see a very flawed initiative that if it was to pass, would set a precedent for the entire state that would cause a lot of issues and would also, by its wording, close down the balloon regatta, close down the market street, potentially prevent police officers from closing a lane during traffic. We would not be able to have a Fourth of July parade since the petition says that no city resources, or even voluntary resources given to the city can be used to alter the lanes of Lake Powell Boulevard. Period. And this is indeed why the city took the position that the Arizona constitution says that reserve to the citizens the rights of referendum and initiative are to legislate. And it does not say that it is reserved to the citizens to pick the colors of the chairs in city hall, to decide what kind of park equipment to buy or to say what that is. So I would say that the decision that the court makes is immaterial to the need of this.

“And also just to say one more thing about the supposed support for that is termed as anti-downtown revitalization. I don't view it as that. As many of the speakers have said, some people said they just wanted to vote on it and they would vote yes. So when you say this number of citizens ask for an initiative, it does not equate to this. Many citizens are against a downtown streetscape. Yes. It is not 100%, 75% popular. I think Mr. Miller said that it's a hard job that we do up here, and he thanks us, and I appreciate that. It is a difficult job. I think that this is transformative for Page in its next 50 years to develop this uptown downtown. Our youth advisory commission calls it the uptown because they live off Mesa. So it's uptown. We know that we've got to spark that up if we're going to maintain a commercially viable area. We know that our big stores and our regional shopping are going to be located down on the highway, on Haul Road. That's the design. That's our zoning design. We want to try to bring some life back into downtown and create opportunities for economic development, new businesses, potentially even some additional housing around downtown in a more modern concept. So I understand the reticence of people, but I think we can attack all of our issues if we do it methodically, if we make sure we're fiscally stable, which we are, and we can do more than one thing at once. And I just would hate to see six plus years of work flushed down with no benefit from it.”

Councilor Mike Farrow, along with Kocjan and Auge, opposed approving the phase one contract. “We had a number of discussions on this and budget,” said Farrow. “I'd rather have a firehouse. I'd rather have infrastructure. I'd rather have housing. I'd rather have the economic development board work together with the business owners, which we didn't have an opportunity yet to do.

“The No. 1 issue was housing. No. 1 issue is housing. We're expecting our biggest tourist season this year. And we have business owners saying, ‘I don't have a place for people to live.’ I have a police department that has trouble getting homes for their people. We have a fire department. We have people commuting. We don't have housing. We don't have what it takes. And I'd rather see us focus our attention on housing, our infrastructure and a fire station, new fire station that we get our equipment out of the sun and we have a quicker response time to the whole city. So I will not be supporting this for any other reason. Not because of a PAC, not because of any other reason, but priorities. I've always said since the beginning we have to properly purpose what we're doing. I did that when I ran. I said we made smart choices. I don't know what the overall plan is, and I don't see just starting one thing. I want to see us have a plan, and I like to rack and stack the plans, which I thought, by the way, your budget thing was a good meeting, but I like to continue the rack and stack.“

“I'm not sure, Councilor Farrow, what ‘rack and stack’ means,” responded Carey. “If it means planning and looking forward, we have a capital improvement budget that has set aside money as we go so we don't get into the situation of fiscal instability as we did in the past years when some people were on this council. So I think that we need to go ahead and move forward. We've got a good bid. For the first time, the bid actually matches our estimate. This is amazing. We can get it done. And I would say that now actually is the time.”

Mayor Diak voted to approve the phase one contract, the one block modification between Vista Avenue and North Navajo Drive on Lake Powell Boulevard.

“I'm in support of the downtown revitalization,” said Diak. “I think it's needed for us to stay where we are today and to move beyond. And I agree with Councilor Carey in the fact that we can chew gum and walk at the same time. I think we can do many of these projects, and maybe we look at how we're utilizing some of our reserve monies and our bank accounts and push that envelope a little bit more.

“I think revitalization of our community, when we look at it, is important to where we want to be and who we've become. It's not just about tourism. It's about all of us. But we're looking at doing a splash pad, we're looking at doing pools, we're looking at Streetscape, we're looking at doing roads. And we are doing roads. We just did this on this west side this last week. We're doing more. But one of the things that I think that we keep talking about, and I'll bring up your point, housing. We are doing a lot for housing, but when we can't get contractors that want to pull the trigger on housing and are sitting there saying we can't build what you guys are calling affordable housing anymore, it does not exist.

“How many housing projects have we had stagnate because they wouldn't pull the trigger because of the cost of building? They can't make any money at it. It's not that we don't have people and haven't tried to work on that. When you've got to mechanize and bring all your equipment, all your materials from 600 miles away, and you got to bring your workers and import them in also, it's just the homebuilders cannot do it. We listened to our own local, Jake Burton, just for the last two weeks, just struggling and said, “Look, man, I can do one or two or three,” but one or two or three can't help us when we're 100 behind the scale, when we need 100 homes, not one, two or three a year. So it's tough when you're a small community and you're as isolated as us trying to get that scale to come to you. Why would they want to do that when they can build in Washington, Utah, and they could develop a hundred homes in three blocks or come up from Phoenix and do the same thing? Why would they want to come up here and do 10, 15 homes when it costs, when they add another $30 to $40,000 per house just getting their equipment here? So it's tough. It's not that we're not listening to you on those kind of things. We are. The speed at what government works is actually slow. Quite frankly, I can't see that we've ever rushed into anything too fast where we've missed something, but we are trying to do the best we can. Part of that is a better economy, more business and stuff like that. And we're still going to struggle with housing today. Tomorrow and 10 years from now we will be still struggling with trying to build some of those things. Commercial is a little different because you've usually got money behind them that are building those things. They have their own contractors to do that kind of stuff, but we're doing the best we can.”

Councilor Auge voted against the contract though his words suggested he was closer to the fence line than Kocjan and Farrow. Auge’s primary objection was the pending court decision, “I've been here for 48 years and darn, we really need to do something for downtown, not just for tourists, because that's how it's been touted, but it's for the citizens where they have a downtown that we can come to.

“We live and breathe in town and the tourists don't. And the other thing is we got a frickin court case and we haven't got a decision on it yet from the courts. So at this point I want it, but also we also need a lot of other stuff. We are addressing a lot of those also in this budget coming up. And City Manager [has] made sure that he has put this stuff in to try to address a lot of these issues, such as the pool that he's working on to try to address a need for the citizens. So anyhow, at this point I can't support it."