It may be a new year, but for the city of Sedona many of the issues remain the same starting with the most talked about one of all — traffic.
But, unlike past years when traffic was discussed but little done to address it, 2018 is expected to end that streak. That is because Sedona City Manager Justin Clifton feels that it is time to stop talking and start doing.
Traffic was one of several topics Clifton discussed earlier this week as he looks ahead to the new year for the city.
“Obviously, this year will be a continuation of some things that have already been on the burner with traffic being first and foremost on that list,” he said. “The good news is, we finished the traffic master plan study, and we’re already moving toward implementation.”
Council recently reviewed a rough draft of the final $250,000 study and gave input and recommendations. Some of the top priorities scheduled for the next 18 months — which includes fiscal year 2018-19 — include the Uptown improvement project that will include a median and roundabout, neighborhood connections at Forest Road and Portal Lane and interpretive signs along Interstate 17 that
would give drivers alternate routes and destination times. Early stage work has already begun on most of those projects.
“In terms of construction, there’s no easy way to do it that doesn’t create an inconvenience,” Clifton said. “So, we have some decisions to make in terms of do we try and get a lot done at once, which shortens that duration of inconvenience, or do we spread it out and do work in the off seasons, which takes even longer.”
Clifton has said many times that there is no silver bullet or simple solution to traffic. It is here to stay. So, instead of trying to solve the issue, he feels the city is best served in trying to manage it. To do so, the city has earmarked more than $30 million in traffic mitigation projects over the next decade.
“We’re a small community constrained by public lands and our main thoroughfares are two highways,” he said. “Even the really ambitious ideas like paving Schnebly Hill Road, a bridge over the canyon or bypass the entire community, even those would not eliminate traffic and come with a whole host of other major impacts that most people would not want to see happen.
“One of our traffic engineers said, ‘traffic is our destiny,’ and it’s true. There aren’t many options. So, we’re trying to build a system that works better than we have now and manage it the best we can.”
The reason these projects are taking place is because this is the top concern or complaint of residents in Sedona. But, unlike more urban areas where traffic occurs at certain times of the day, he pointed out that in Sedona it is more seasonal. And because Sedona is a tourist destination, he feels there will always be a traffic issue here in the eyes of many.
In addition to traffic, Clifton also discussed the following issues:
- Land Development Code: It has been nearly 20 years since the code was last updated, which will be completed this spring.
“The bottom line is, it’s old,” he said. “You can tweak things here and there, but at some point you need to re-envision land use and modernize.”
He said the formula used by many communities across the county has been one often used in urban areas. But, Clifton said there is not a one-sizefits-all way of doing things.
- Short-term rentals/lack of available and affordable housing: While this issue is not a new one, it has come more to the forefront, especially in the last year following the passing of Senate Bill 1350, which allows shortterm rentals statewide. Until then, it was illegal in Sedona even though the practice was taking place on a large scale.
“The statement that the city doesn’t want to be landlords is generally true because that’s not our business,” he said. “But, with big problems you often have to get creative when trying to fix it. I don’t think we should take anything off the table right off the bat.”
He said what the city needs to do in the next year is take a hard look at this issue because more than likely it will get worse before it gets better.
“What we need to do now is get serious about finding what the nature of the problem is, the consequences if we do nothing and what it’s really going to take to move the needle,” he said. “That means looking for real partnerships including people in town who have parcels that would be willing to do something if they could make it work.
“It’s time for us to admit that traffic doesn’t solve itself without resources. Public safety, such as law enforcement and fire, doesn’t take care of itself without resources. Even something like the public pool doesn’t take care of itself without resources. Housing is no different.”
- The Dells land: The city owns 200 acres on the opposite side of the wastewater treatment plant on State Route 89A toward Cottonwood. There have been citizen studies in the past as to the best use for that land. For now, it is not high on council’s priority list and will be discussed in the future.
“It’s on the back burner and for good reason,” Clifton said. “We really don’t know the exact future of the wastewater treatment plant. We just put in a couple of injection wells, which we’ve had some issues with. We don’t even know for sure what the build-out of the plant will look like.
“The property itself, while a tremendous opportunity for the city, is not like other community focus areas where we have private property owners waiting on us before they can move forward. So, we have other priorities at this time.”
- Sustainability: Clifton said this encompasses both fiscal and environmental sustainability. While tourism will always be Sedona’s biggest tax generator, the city wants to look at ways to offset that through other businesses or industry. In terms of environmental sustainability, discussion has included everything from mass transit to an increase in recycling.
“I think those will both be pretty big conversations this year,” he said. “Like so many things, we’ve talked a lot, but now it’s time to get organized and start planning on doing something.”