Wilson, RichardVariant names
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Epithet: JP, of Scarborough
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Epithet: of Add MS 33350
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Epithet: of Add MS 61640
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The "Save the Peaks" fight was a decade-long struggle, originally pitting local citizens against Summit Properties and its parent corporation, the Post Company. The Object of the controversy was a 350 acre parcel of land in the Hart Prairie area of the San Francisco Peaks. In the early 1970's, local Flagstaff citizens united to prevent the company's proposed development of the Hart Prairie acreage. During the course of the controversy, the citizens of Flagstaff and Summit Properties became allies against the United States Forest Service (USFS). Both groups felt the USFS, guardians of American public forest lands, extended the "Save the Peaks" controversy for many years by neither cooperating nor negotiating in good faith with either the citizens of Flagstaff or Summit Properties.
In January, 1970, the Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission approved a measure to rezone 327 acres of Hart Prairie from agricultural to conventional single family, multiple family, and commercial zoning. Based on this decision, Summit Properties purchased the Arizona Snow Bowl ski area with the intent of expanding the facilities into the newly rezoned area of Hart Prairie. Summit Properties planned to develop the existing site into 300 acres of hotel accommodations, condominiums, swimming pools, trout ponds, tennis courts, and riding stables; a four million dollar resort/residential project. At the time of this original zoning decision, the USFS declared no official position.
Protests to Summit's plans began in 1971 and were led by private citizens, the Plateau Group of the Sierra Club, the Hopi and Navajo Nations, and the Flagstaff Gem and Mineral Society, among others. In response to these protests, the USFS held a series of public hearings to help shape its policy regarding the proposed development of the Hart Prairie acreage. Despite opposition from both the private sector and the USFS, the Coconino Planning and Zoning Commission approved the rezoning of Post Company's Hart Prairie holdings in December, 1971. In January 1972, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors defeated the zoning request of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Arizona state statutes require a unanimous vote on zoning requests put before the Board of Supervisors when twenty percent of adjoining landholders oppose the changes. In this case, only two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the change.
In early 1973, the first shot was fired in the local courts. Hart Prairie landowners Richard and Jean Wilson filed suit against the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, the Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission, and Summit Properties/Post Company in an effort to repeal the zoning changes approved in January, 1970. The Wilsons and their co-plaintiffs charged that the Coconino County Board of Supervisors was guilty of several technical errors in the zoning process. The efforts of the Wilsons, the Navajo and Hopi Nations, and many other concerned citizens precipitated several public hearings in 1973 and 1974 regarding the rezoning and development of Hart Prairie. During these hearings, the Flagstaff City Council remained officially neutral on the rezoning proposals. The Hart Prairie proposal was endorsed by many Coconino County labor unions including the Teamsters Local 83, the Carpenters Local 1100, and the Sawmill Workers Local 2772. After rejecting rezoning requests again in both January and March of 1974, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors placed a one-year moratorium on rezoning, building, or use permit requests in the San Francisco Peaks above 8,000 feet.
In response to their defeats in the public forum, Bruce Leadbetter, President of Post Company, filed suit against several defendants on behalf of Summit Properties. These defendants included private citizens Richard and Jean Wilson, Leonard Halpenny, and Douglas J. Wall. The suit also named the USFS, Coconino National Forest Supervisor Don Seamus, Coconino County Supervisor Tio Tachias, the Museum of Northern Arizona, and the Tuba City School District as co-defendants. This lawsuit temporarily ended all communication between the involved parties.
The Coconino Citizens Association (CCA), newly organized and incorporated in 1974, offered itself as a line of communication between the feuding parties. The CCA determined that a fair solution included payment of the fair market value (not the amount of invested venture capital) to Summit for the Hart Prairie acreage. The only way to finance this transaction involved trading the land into the public domain, an idea suggested by the USFS itself in December of 1971. In February 1975, the CCA once again volunteered its services, this time as a negotiating intermediary between the USFS and Summit/Post Company. As a contingency for negotiation, the USFS demanded that the Summit lawsuit be resolved, and that Summit submit a written exchange proposal. Leadbetter agreed to these terms in late February 1975, thus clearing the way for negotiations.
On April 11, 1975, representatives from the USFS, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Summit/Post Company, and the CCA met to decide on the method and criteria to be used for the appraisal of the Hart Prairie land. It was agreed that the value of the land should be based on its highest and best use, and that a third party exchange the easiest transfer process. Though troubled by temporary concerns, Leadbetter consented to a USFS appraisal based on the USFS's promise that the appraisal would be ready in one month.
Six months later, the USFS declared its final appraisal to be 1.34 million dollars. Angered by the delays and the extremely low appraisal figure, the CCA passed a unanimous resolution condemning the USFS appraisal. In December 1975, Leadbetter and the USFS agreed to submit their dispute to independent appraisal. In order to facilitate this independent appraisal, the Citizens Hart Prairie Appraisal Committee was formed. This committee, comprised of Northern Arizona University Dean of the School of Forestry Charles Minor, Coconino County Manager Jack Smith, and CCA board member and Flagstaff physician Walter Taylor, selected Charles L. Darragh, a member of the American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers in Arizona, to conduct the appraisal.
Completed in March 1976, Darragh's appraisal was 1.866 million dollars. This figure was immediately approved by the Post Company board of directors. By July 1976, the USFS had still not responded to Post Company's offer to sell the hart Prairie land for 1.866 million dollars. Frustrated by the USFS's silence and lethargy, Leadbetter and representatives of the CCA, and Hopi and Navajo Nations went to lobby for Congressional support of the land sale in Washington, D.C. In Washington, they received the support of the entire Arizona Congressional Delegation.
Desperate for a solution, and making no headway with the USFS, Leadbetter and the CCA Struck a deal with the Nature Conservancy to buy the land from Summit at a price below the USFS accepted appraisal amount. The Nature Conservancy would then sell the land to the USFS at a price sufficient to cover their initial investment. This deal never materialized, and in August 1976, the USFS rejected Darragh's independent appraisal and once again offered Summit the original USFS appraisal sum of 1.34 million dollars. After two months of negotiation, the USFS and Summit/Post Company agreed to a purchase price of 1.465 million dollars. This agreement was contingent upon Congressional approval of the deal and subsequent financial appropriation. The funds for this purchase were expected to be generated by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act which was designed to add to the public domain "lands with desirable recreational activities". Also as part of the sale, the USFS agreed to give Summit/Post Company retention of the area's water rights for a fifty year period. In January 1977, Summit Properties officially dropped its 1974 lawsuit, and on January 27, 1978, the USFS officially requested the disbursement of payments to Summit Properties.
Though local newspapers heralded this event as the end of the "Save the Peaks" fight, it was not the end of development controversies for the San Francisco Peaks. In the early 1980's, under different ownership, the Arizona Snow Bowl again sought to expand. In 1977, Northland Recreation, operators of the Arizona Snow Bowl, wanted to increase the size of the facilities because of what Northland cited as a growing interest in skiing. Because Snow Bowl is located on Forest Service land and operates under a use permit, Northland Recreation was required to get USFS approval for any proposed developments. In addition to the USFS's decision, Northland faced opposition from local residents, environmental activists and the Navajo and Hopi Tribes. The Navajos and Hopis argued the Northland's plans conflicted with the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which mandated that no policy of the government can interfere with Indian religious practices or sites. As with the "Save the Peaks" fight, the Navajos and Hopis claimed that the peaks were a sacred area being desecrated by development.
In November 1978, the USFS options regarding Snow Bowl ranged from completely dismantling the entire operation to allowing the full development requested by Northland. In order to help shape their policy, the USFS held public hearings and solicited oral and written arguments from interested parties. According to the USFS, 75.9 percent of the 8,841 written comments received favored Northland's planned development. In February 1979, Coconino national Forest Supervisor Mike Kerrick decided to allow improvements to be made to Snow Bowl within the boundaries of the existing 777 acre permit area. The approved development plan was designed to increase the facility's capacity from 552 skiers to 2,825 skiers, and included plans for construction of a new lodge, improvement of the existing lodge, relocation of the picnic area, changes in lifts, and road improvements such as paving and widening Snow Bowl road. The USFS labeled the approved plans a compromise between the requests of Northland and the Navajos and Hopis.
Unhappy with Kerrick's decision, opponents of Snow Bowl development were granted a "stay of implementation" on the USFS Snow Bowl decision by Judge Charles Richey in March 1979. Additionally, a Native American request for appeal of the Snow Bowl decision was accepted by Southwest Regional Forester M.J. Hassel. Hassel reviewed the decision and the appeal arguments and decided to modify the Snow Bowl expansion plans in February 1980. Hassel ordered that improvements to Snow Bowl could not include expansion, but instead, only repair and replacement of existing feature and the paving of Snow Bowl road. Hassel's ruling was appealed to the Chief of the USFS, R. Max Peterson, who upheld Kerrick's original decision. By March 1981, the Snow Bowl issue had made it to Federal Court in Washington, D.C., where suits were filed against the Secretary of Agriculture John Block and others by the Hopi and Navajo Nations, the Navajo Medicine Man Association, and the Wilsons. On June 15, 1981, Judge Richey entered a "memorandum opinion" granting summary judgment to the defendants. Though this judgment was appealed, Richey ruled that the plaintiff had not met their burden of proof and denied the plaintiff's motions for further review. On May 14, 1982, Richey lifted the "stay of implementation", clearing the way for the developments approved in the USFS's 1979 "Final Environmental Statement".
During the time that this matter was in court, Northland sought to have its USFS use permits for Snow Bowl transferred to Fairfield Snow Bowl, Incorporated. This transaction was appealed by opponents to Snow Bowl development on the grounds that it violated religious rights and created endangered species problems. In February 1983, this transfer was reviewed and supported by Coconino Forest Supervisor Neil R. Paulsen and affirmed by Deputy Regional Forester James C. Overbay in August 1983.
Though a new all-weather road and increased development of the Snow Bowl area resulted from these efforts, the resistance to development on the San Francisco Peaks generated during the Hart Prairie controversy of the 1970's proved a staunch opponent once again. The decade-long struggle for the Peaks resulted in an immediate loss for expansion opponents but a long-term gain as developers now realize the difficulties involved with building on the Peaks.
Richard and Jean Wilson are Flagstaff landowners who opposed the development of the Hart Prairie area from the beginning. Their efforts, as concerned members of the Flagstaff community, helped to ensure that the beauty and significance of the San Francisco Peaks were preserved for everyone to enjoy.
From the guide to the Richard and Jean Wilson Collection, 1995., (Cline Library. Special Collections and Archives Department.)
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