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Thread: Sedona city council regularly extorts money from developers for zoning changes

  1. #1

    Sedona city council regularly extorts money from developers for zoning changes

    Evidently, "it's part of the process," but the "negotiations" usually occur privately. The council members are uncomfortable with this being discussed at an open meeting, and I can certainly see why. They know it's extortion, but they dress it up by calling it a "fee." Only one council member has a problem with it.


    (Pic courtesy Peace Piper.)

    Sedona Mayor Asks for $500K 'In Lieu Fee' In Exchange for Zoning Change
    http://www.enewsaz.com/az-state-news...-zoning-change

    One council member calls the request 'extortion'

    Mark Stevenson owns a piece of land with an undeniably ugly old office building on it. He wanted to build something lovely for the residents and visitors of Sedona, Arizona.

    "Our vision is to create an aesthetically enhanced restaurant that combines Community, Sustainability, Artistry, and Beauty, where both local residents and visitors alike can meet and enjoy "bella cocina" (beautiful cuisine) with dramatic views of the red rocks during the day and the stars at night," reads the cover letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

    In order for that vision to come to pass, Stevenson needed a zoning change from Office Professional (OP) to General Commercial District (C-1). Stevenson and his team worked diligently with the City of Sedona's staff and committees to ensure that Sedona's rigid specifications were met, and finally arrived at the last hurdle: Approval from the Sedona City Council.

    In order for that vision to come to pass, Stevenson needed a zoning change from Office Professional (OP) to General Commercial District (C-1). Stevenson and his team worked diligently with the City of Sedona's staff and committees to ensure that Sedona's rigid specifications were met, and finally arrived at the last hurdle: Approval from the Sedona City Council.

    So, it must have come as a surprise when during the discussion of the project, Mayor Rob Adams stated, "In my experience with doing development agreements, or zoning changes, or community plan updates, this is our opportunity, particularly in the zoning change process to negotiate community benefits in exchange for the entitlements."

    How much of a community benefit? Adams' idea was a $500,000 donation to the City of Sedona in exchange for the zoning change.

    Really? Yes. A $500,000 'in lieu fee' that the "...City could utilize to provide benefits to whatever we come up with." And, evidently, this practice is commonplace in the City of Sedona, although typically the requests for fees and 'community benefits' are handled in smaller, less public settings.

    Mayor Adams was bold in making his request, "I would like to hear you say, 'I'm willing to put up a reasonable amount of money, considering the fact that when I do get that zoning change, we know that the value of property is going to be increased fairly significantly from an OP to a C1.' So, I'd just like to have an offer from you and see if we could say that we all feel good about that and sing KumBayAh."

    When Stevenson heard the amount Adams had in mind, his response was quick and clear, "That, we're out."


    From there, the conversation continued, until finally one council member used the word, "extortion."

    Read below for the entire context, and the resolution.
    [...]
    Dan McIlroy
    Mayor, with due respect to you, and I don't want you to take what I'm going to say wrong, but, I'm extremely uncomfortable with using our position to approve a project. And in a sense, it strikes me as almost extortion that we're touching on. And it bothers me very much. This gentleman wants to have a project approved. And we're using that leverage of our power as a City to twist his arm to do something. Maybe the project has, you might say, the community benefit, is there somewhere. But we should not use our position as public servants to extort money from people who are not willing to give it to us voluntarily. Now, let me ask you my questions, Mr. Stevenson.

    Dan McIlroy
    How many employees will you have at this restaurant when it opens next year?

    Michael Stevenson
    I would venture to say 40. 30-40 employees.

    Don McIlroy
    Yes, 30 or 40 that don't exist at the moment. Mayor, I apologise if I've offended you, but I feel very strongly about abuse of our public power in a situation like this.
    Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.
    --Albert J. Nock



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  3. #2
    Well, if it weren't for the present zoning, he'd be able to build it anyway, wouldn't he?
    Government creates the problem with laws, then extort money to change the law to allow this man to have a business there.

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by BAllen View Post
    Well, if it weren't for the present zoning, he'd be able to build it anyway, wouldn't he?
    Government creates the problem with laws, then extort money to change the law to allow this man to have a business there.
    True that. I just can't believe they haven't been charged with extortion.

    Michael Goimarac, City Attorney
    The other thing it's important to know is that if you disapprove it, the developer also has the option to develop the property as it's currently zoned. He could change the proposal to something that would fit within the office/professional zoning. So you just need to know to understand that that's one option in his packet, too.

    Rob Adams, Mayor
    Ok, Mr. Stevenson, I'm going to support this zoning change. I brought up a point that has been discussed before. You know it's part of the process. This isn't your first rodeo, you've done other projects.

    Michael Stevenson
    No, I am surprised. I'm sorry. But I am.

    Rob Adams, Mayor
    Well, it has been the process that I've been involved with for the last seven years on City Council. So, I think that you have a great development that you're proposing here, there are community benefits, my feeling is that, as a City Council, and as a City, that we should be fair and equitable to all people that do developments here and treat them all the same...
    Just unbelievable. Seven years this has been going on (at the least). How can it be "fair and equitable" and "treat them all the same" if the council pulls the amount of the "in lieu fee" out of their butts willy nilly?

    A gang of thieves writ large.

    Hard to believe no developers have filed a complaint. http://law.justia.com/codes/arizona/...ection13-1804/
    Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.
    --Albert J. Nock

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    I think this encapsulates what politicians do for the most part. This is how we end up with a federal tax code that a billion pages. Complete sickness.
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