FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Jim Mehen's first gated golf community dropped into Flagstaff 10 years ago the way a fine putt drops into a cup on a lush green. But when the northern Arizona developer proposed another golf enclave last fall, it didn't even make the fairway. Faced with strong public opposition, Mehen withdrew his plans for the Flagstaff Ranch Golf Club. He hopes to bring back a modified proposal when a regional planning process concludes sometime next year.
opponents are thanking him for a new wave of environmental activism
and a debate on growth in this pine-scented college town on the
southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. "Flagstaff was being
devoured by developers," says John Grahame, who helped found a
citizens' group that's fighting Mehen's proposal. "People felt
helpless. Dry Lake was the turning point."
Lake is the semi-wild basin on the edge of town where Mehen wants
to build 300 luxury homes and a championship golf course. The
405-acre parcel cups a 40-acre wetland - extremely rare in Arizona
- and elk and deer wander steep hillsides of ponderosa pine, Gambel
oak and aspen.
This is private land. "That's why
this is so frustrating to me," says Mehen. "When it comes to
preservation, I say "let's concentrate on public lands."
Mehen insists that his plans for Dry Lake, once
a dairy farm, are environmentally friendly. The wetland would be
preserved, he says. He blames the resistance on a small, vocal,
"Wrong," says Grahame. "When
the word got out, this town caught fire. A thousand locals signed
petitions against the plan. Six hundred mailed letters of
opposition." Facing a dubious Coconino County Board of Supervisors
in November, Mehen temporarily withdrew his request for a necessary
Mehens' opponents organized last
fall as Friends of Dry Lake. Its 300 members hope to preserve the
parcel as open space, either through a land trust or public
acquisition. The going price is said to be $5
Two other local green groups formed in
the wake of Dry Lake. Flagstaff Activist Network focuses on
stopping ski development and mining on the San Francisco Peaks.
Flagstaff Opposed to Nuclear Transport helped get the city council
to declare Flagstaff a nuclear-free zone.
this delights Mary Sojourner, a writer who led the early charge
against the golf course development, partly through an
environmental column published in a local weekly (see
Mehen grudgingly acknowledges
Sojourner's leadership, but says she and Friends of Dry Lake are
"I live here," says Mehen. "I want to
preserve the quality of life. I want to be part of the solution."
Sojourner snorts at Mehen's claim that he, too,
is an environmentalist: "I'm sorry ... Environmental developer is
an oxymoron. And we'd be morons to believe him."
Mehen says he promotes reasonable growth and
points out that Dry Lake has been zoned for over 1,500 units since
1983, although Mehen says it would be impossible to build that many
homes in the basin.
Critics worry that golf
course chemicals could harm the wetland, and that houses and roads
will displace wildlife. They also say gated enclaves divide
communities along economic lines.
gated development, Forest Highlands, faced little opposition when
it was built in the mid-1980s. Flagstaff has since grown at an
annual rate of 3 percent, topping 50,000 people in
Corporate franchises have arrived in
droves. Second-home developers are busy marketing Flagstaff's clean
air, mountain views and small-city friendliness. Locals wonder what
will be left when the dust settles.
his golf ranch would provide 100 jobs, pump $10-15 million into the
local economy every year and boost county tax rolls by about $1
City and county officials have begun
looking carefully at expensive, recreation-based projects. Last
fall, Flagstaff Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously rejected
Fairway Peaks, a gated golf development inside city
Two years ago, county supervisors voted
4-1 to approve Aspen Shadows, a gated golf project next door to Dry
Lake. But Tom Chabin, who chairs the county board, says he might
vote against Aspen Shadows if he had it to do over again. Chabin
stops short of saying he's philosophically opposed to high-end
second-home development, but he's no fan of gated
"A kid should be able to go out on
Halloween and trick-or-treat anywhere in his hometown," he
The writer is a
freelancer in Flagstaff,
You can contact
* Friends of Dry Lake, P.O. Box 23813,
Flagstaff, AZ 86002-3813; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site:
* Jim Mehen, Flagstaff Ranch
Golf Club, 2304 N. Fourth St., Suite B, Flagstaff, AZ 86004;