After a lengthy appeal process, the Sedona City Council voted 4-3 to approve a development review for Arabella Spa at its April 25 meeting.
The owners of the Arabella Hotel submitted a conceptual application to construct a spa facility on vacant commercial property adjoining the hotel in June 2021, submitted a development review application in May 2022 and amended the application in September and October 2022. The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the application by a 3-3 vote on Nov. 15, and a reconsideration by city council on Jan. 25 also failed 3-3. Tie votes are denials.
Councilwoman Melissa Dunn, who was absent on Jan. 25, had requested a further reconsideration of the application.
Attorney Benjamin Tate, of Withey Morris, appearing for the applicants, responded to previous concerns about sustainability, pointing out that the spa will add five to six EV charging stations and is committing to eliminate single-use plastic. Tate stated that 72% of existing trees on the lot will be retained or transplanted, that the pool filtration systems will reduce energy consumption by 50% and that the pool covers will reduce evaporation by 95%.
“Most of this site will remain undeveloped,” Tate said. The proposed area of development will occupy only 29% of the property.
In response to a question from Councilman Brian Fultz, Tate explained that the spa will achieve a reduction in water use of between 42% and 71% relative to the Nirvana mixed-use development approved for the site in 2008.
Andrew Baird, of Kimley-Horn consultants, discussed revised traffic projections for the spa facility. By using “more site-specific data” rather than general estimates, the project’s latest traffic study concluded that the spa would likely generate 546 average daily trips, not 1,121 as determined by the applicants’ previous study, which was conducted in August 2022.
Baird also noted that the Arizona Department of Transportation concurred with Kimley-Horn’s findings.
“They do not see this as a significant amount of traffic that will impact the intersection [at State Route 179 and Sombart Lane],” he told council.
‘Meets and Exceeds’
Fultz said that Arizona is a strong property rights state.
“I’m not thrilled about anything that might cause additional traffic on 179, but I don’t think that’s a basis for making a decision on this project,” Fultz said. “This project meets the requirements and has the right to be approved.” He also expressed confidence in the Kimley-Horn traffic analysis given how often the city retains that firm.
“You’re on the track toward what we would like to see,” Dunn commented, noting that her concerns had been addressed. “I think it fits into our community character.”
Councilwoman Jessica Williamson stated that people should be able to expect that they have the right to build on their property. “This project meets and exceeds the city’s requirements, and yet we’re saying that even though it meets and exceeds the city’s requirements, we’re not going to do it anyway,” Williamson said. “I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think that’s right.”
“We can’t dictate who builds and who doesn’t build,” Mayor Scott Jablow said, adding that approvals have to be decided “on the merits of the project.”
“I did support this project and I still do support this project,” Jablow said.
The applicants also provided letters of support from the Hampton Inn, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association and the Sedona International Film Festival.
Vice Mayor Holli Ploog told the council she disapproved of the fact that their rules of procedure allow reconsideration at all before disagreeing with ADOT’s analysis and referring to the revised traffic statistics as “airy-fairy.”
“It doesn’t feel legitimate,” Ploog said.
“New information has not been submitted here even though it’s been alluded to,” Councilwoman Kathy Kinsella said. “I have nothing that addresses the concerns that I stated at the Jan. 25 meeting, which included the traffic analysis is not there.” She also wanted to review the applicant’s correspondence with ADOT.
“I don’t know why we would think it’s a good idea,” Councilman Pete Furman said, arguing that the application did not meet the city’s Land Development Code requirements because of the absence of a proper traffic analysis.
“We are in the height of a historic drought, and to consider a spa at this time, I think, is unconscionable and unacceptable,” neighbor Suzanne Gosar told the council. “It’s fine for the city of Sedona to choose open space. We have very little of it anymore.”
The National Integrated Drought Information System released data on Dec. 29 indicating that Sedona and Yavapai County were no longer experiencing drought conditions.
The city of Sedona occupies approximately 11,700 acres of land, half of which is national forest and open space.
“What they’re proposing sounds beautiful, but … it’s like lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. It’s something we do not want in our neighborhood,” Gosar concluded, asking the council to deny the application.
Neighbor Dennis Lewis complained that having to show up to protest the application multiple times “causes me stress and anxiety.” He told the council that he had a “mild fear of retaliation if this doesn’t pass” and that the development would benefit only the project’s owners, not the community, as well as claiming it would attract day trippers.
Williamson’s motion to approve the development review, allowing the project to move forward, passed by a vote of 4-3, with Jablow, Dunn, Fultz and Williamson in favor, and Ploog, Furman and Kinsella against.