Group take aims at Grand Canyon development vote

FELICIA FONSECA Associated Press Published:

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- An Italian real estate group is suing to keep residents of a tiny town south of the Grand Canyon from putting a stop to its plans for major development that include hotels, 3 million square feet of commercial space and hundreds of homes.

A group of Tusayan residents critical of the plan gathered enough signatures to put rezoning and annexation agreements approved by the Town Council up for a vote in May. But Stilo Development Group USA contends the referenda are legally insufficient, and it sued the town Tuesday.

The lawsuit filed in Coconino County Superior Court is part of what's expected to be a hard-fought battle in the town where residents have long disagreed over how an area seven miles outside the Grand Canyon's park gates should be developed.

The lawsuit contends that petitioners didn't accurately describe the ordinances passed by the Town Council, nor do the referendum numbers match up to them. The lawsuit further also argues that a development agreement between Stilo and the town is an administrative action, not a legislative one, so it cannot be referred to the ballot.

Stilo has asked a judge to grant a preliminary injunction to keep any election materials from being printed and stop the referenda from being placed on the ballot. A hearing is scheduled Feb. 28.

"I don't think it's any accident that what's missing from all of the descriptions, in terms of being accurate, is that there would be housing and open land in the rezoning," Stilo attorney Keith Beauchamp said Wednesday.

The town's attorney, Bill Sims, said late Wednesday that he was still reviewing the lawsuit along with the mayor and council.

Some of Tusayan's residents and the town's neighbors say Stilo's plan is vague and would dramatically alter the character of the town and mar the beauty leading to the Grand Canyon. Specifically, they want to know how Stilo intends to deliver water to its developments and to what extent it would provide affordable housing for residents.

"Never once does it say anything about an amount, exactly what they are going to get," said Clarinda Vail, who is part of a committee named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

She defended the petitions as sound and said that Tusayan residents should not be denied a chance to vote.