Sedona will provide workers living in cars with a safe place to park

Sedona will provide workers living in cars with a safe place to park

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SEDONA — After nearly seven hours of heated debate, the Sedona City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a program that would provide a safe place to park for city workers who live in their cars.

But a petition to let Sedona voters make up their own minds about the program could soon be making its way around town.

The safe parking space program will include 40 parking spaces for full-time workers within the city. Participants are required to actively participate in case management with local social services — with the ultimate goal of securing permanent housing after the program ends. The site will include temporary toilets, showers and trash cans.

Funded through a two-year grant from the Arizona Department of Housing, the site will be operated by the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition.

They will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing the rules within the lot between 10:00pm and 8:00am. All vehicles will be required to leave during the day.

The council’s decision comes after more than a year of planning and refining a program aimed at providing relief to area workers as affordable housing projects move through the construction process.

City officials estimate the 30-unit workforce housing project on Shelby Drive will be ready for residents by the end of the safe parking space program in 2026.

Council members acknowledged the program isn’t ideal and isn’t a permanent solution to the area’s affordable housing crisis. But they said it was something that could be done immediately to help ease the situation for those who would otherwise be sleeping illegally in their cars on city streets or in a nearby national forest.

“I don’t think there’s anyone or staff here that is extremely proud of that. This is a last ditch effort,” Mayor Scott Jablow said. “Nobody’s really proud because that’s not really the answer. It’s one of many answers.”

A voting referendum may be on the way

The majority of residents spoke out against the program, with some calling for a ballot referendum that would put the decision in the hands of voters.

“If the city passes this flawed zoning ordinance, I’m already prepared and I’m going to file for a referendum tomorrow so the people of Sedona can right this wrong,” said Dr. Bill Noonan, who said he moved to Sedona from Portland to escape the homeless crisis he says was created by the city.

Although the majority of residents attending Tuesday’s meeting spoke out against the project, council members said the numerous emails they received in support of the program show residents are more divided on the issue than might be expected. guessed from the meeting at night.

Although she initially supported the program during previous council discussions, Deputy Mayor Holly Plug cast the lone no vote. She said she ended the evening conflicted about how best to represent the people of Sedona on this issue.

“I wish we had the authority to put this on the ballot because I want to hear what the community actually wants to do,” Ploog said.

Something as divisive and controversial as the program could “break this community apart,” she said, adding that she welcomed a ballot referendum and would even sign the petition herself.

“That’s the only way people have a voice — through the ballot box,” Plug said.

The Lot’s location in the Cultural Park raises concerns about future plans

Many opponents of the project objected to its location in a parking lot in the northwest corner of the 41-acre cultural park. The city bought the property for $23 million last year after it spent more than a decade on the market after being bought out of foreclosure.

The land was largely unused for two decades. City officials say without the city’s involvement, the site would likely become a hotel or resort, which could bring even more short-term rentals to the city. They also argued that the lack of height or density restrictions could put Sedona’s famous red rock views at risk if the developer prioritized profit.

The program will be located on approximately 6 acres of land previously used as a parking lot. The area is not visible from nearby residences or roads, according to city staff.

But some community members say the lot’s presence next to one of the city’s biggest assets will diminish its value in the eyes of many residents. Many also spoke of fears the park would become a hub for area pollution, drug use and other illegal behavior, permanently damaging what residents described as a “Sedona treasure.”

Tim Jessup, a decade-long Sedona resident and music engineer who works with the band Chicago, noted that the project site is close to the band’s current studio. He said the program would “turn the cultural park around”, a place that could otherwise give a huge boost to the local economy.

Putting the program in Culture Park will “kill the golden goose and eat it,” Jessup said.

But city officials emphasized that the program is temporary, with a hard two-year limit on the grant funding, as well as a zoning reversal that will revoke the designated land use in June 2026.

During that period, the community will undergo an intensive process to develop a master plan for the future of the cultural park, which officials say will take at least two years to complete.

“If we don’t do this now, then there will never be a time to do it,” said council member Melissa Dunn.

“We can wait two years until we have housing, but these people are going to be living on the street in their cars, living in the woods with precarious conditions,” Dunn said.

“So we just feel like it’s time to do what might be inconvenient, but probably in the long run is the best thing for our community.” These people are residents here, they are part of our community and to deny that because they live in their cars just seems wrong to me,” she said.

Supporters call for compassion and community

The few who spoke in favor of the project argued that housing costs in the Verde Valley had skyrocketed. Many of the people who work in restaurants, shops and other businesses that support the city’s tourism industry are now downsized.

This program, they said, is a way to keep them in town and keep them safe.

“For me, this is an opportunity to show who we are as a community,” said the Rev. Anthony Johnson.

A minister in Sedona, Johnson described the program as a chance for residents to show their humanity and hospitality to their neighbors, noting that much of the night’s conversation involved terms like “out” and “right now.”

“I would remind us all that now is all we have,” he said.

Jay Williams, a 25-year resident and homeowner who works as a regional director for a local company, echoed Johnson’s sentiment. Williams spoke passionately in support of the program, both at that meeting and at a previous council meeting in January where the safe parking space program was discussed.

Williams said he participated in one of the initial employer feedback sessions about the project and only a few had concerns about potentially transitioning employees. He described much of the public opposition from the night as “pathetic” and “prejudiced”.

“All I hear are excuses from those who want to deprive their peers of peace and safety,” Williams said. “Sitting here tonight, I’ve heard those against it call the potential participants animals, vagrants and drug dealers, and the parking lot a zoo, while proudly trumpeting their ignorance of the struggle these people face. “

“We’re talking about helping members of our community — members who already exist in our community and who are positively impacting it,” he said.

Contact the reporter at [email protected].

The Republic’s coverage of northern Arizona is funded in part by a grant from Report for America. To support regional Arizona news coverage like this, make a tax-deductible donation to supportjournalism.azcentral.com.

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