A three-acre lot at the corner of Fort Valley and Schultz Pass roads owned by the city of Flagstaff has become the center of a debate about affordable housing and where such development is appropriate.

Many commenters on the city's website cited loss of views and open space as their reasons for opposing the project, as well as existing traffic congestion along Highway 180. Of 144 comments, 105 opposed the Shultz Pass Road project.

“I agree Flagstaff needs affordable housing; I agree we need to find a way to ensure all those that are working here in Flagstaff can afford to have a place to call home and not in their car in the woods,” another anonymous commenter wrote. “Having said this though I don't agree that the Fort Valley lot should be developed. For starters every late summer there is a magical event that happens in that lot that causes countless people to stop and enjoy the colors and views. There are locals and visitors who stop for this view to take pictures and paint.”

At the city council’s May 23 work session the council directed city staff to move forward with a request for proposals to create affordable rental units on three pieces of city property, totaling five acres of land which could accommodate between 60 and 65 rental units among the three properties.

In addition to the largest property on Fort Valley across from Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, two others are on the east side of the city.

Between June 6 and June 22, the city received 144 online responses to the question, “What does the community think about using three city owned parcels for development of affordable rental housing?”

“I strongly oppose the use of the three city-owned parcels for development of affordable rental housing, especially on the Fort Valley location,” one commenter, who declined to leave a name, wrote. “I can acknowledge the housing shortage that is present in Flagstaff, but what makes Flagstaff such a desirable place to live is the awe-inspiring, beautiful nature that surrounds it. As a Flagstaff native who has seen this city grow right before my eyes, I will not stand for building on such a remarkable and iconic piece of land.”

Another commenter, who did not leave a name, added, “I oppose the use of the proposed site on Fort Valley Road for affordable housing. I would support affordable housing projects elsewhere, where natural beauty is not compromised, and where roadways can manage the increase in residents.”

Some commenters acknowledged a need for affordable housing, but said the Fort Valley and Schultz Pass property was not the appropriate place.

“Adding more vehicles to an already congested roadway with only one way in and out does not make sense to me,” wrote one commenter. “Emergency vehicles have a hard enough time maneuvering through a congested roadway during the winter season and it would seem best fit not continue to add risk to a risky situation.”

Of commenters who voiced an opinion on the project, 32 respondents said they supported the development.

“I am excited about any new affordable housing in town,” wrote one commenter supporting the project. “While the parcel on 180 is further from downtown and city services, there are already other housing developments there, and ideally each neighborhood would have affordable options within it. I am afraid that if the 180 parcel is not developed due to a desire to preserve views, this will set a precedent. Housing, and maintaining a diverse population, is more important than private views.”

The parcel was designated for affordable housing in 2005, when the city chose to incorporate the piece into city limits. At the time, the property was divided into two parcels, with six acres designated to be developed into single-family homes, and the other three acres, the parcel in question now, designated for affordable housing.

At the council’s May 23 work session, Housing Director Sarah Darr said all three parcels would have to be included in the request for proposals in order for a developer’s application for the Low Income Housing tax credit to be competitive.

The award process is “highly competitive,” Darr said, and awardees are typically private developers, which can be nonprofit organizations.

In order to qualify for the tax credit, the units must remain affordable for a minimum of 15 years. However, Flagstaff requires the units to be affordable for a minimum of 30 years, Darr said.

The request will specifically ask for the developers to design one-bedroom and two-bedroom rental units, which are in the highest demand, Darr said. The parcel on Fort Valley and Schultz Pass will be limited to two stories maximum in height, but developers will have some creative freedom with the other parcels.