WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The Williams Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) gave its stamp of approval to the Route 66 Zipline at its Feb. 20 meeting, the second of three scheduled public hearings about the issue.
Chairman Buck Williams and commissioners Brad Massey and Josh Smiley unanimously voted to approve the zipline's special use permit with some conditions. The first was that the zipline company remove the white lettering on the tall poles that does not meet city regulations. The second was obtaining a performance bond, "in terms of protecting the city in case the organization becomes insolvent that we would be able to recover the damage," Smiley explained.
Commissioner Harry Schmitz was absent, but Williams quoted him as saying, "It would not hurt to have them for one more year. I've heard nothing negative about the zipline. Yes I would vote for it."
The Historic Preservation Commission voted 5-0 to deny the company's application for a special use permit at its Feb. 11 meeting.
The Williams City Council will put on a third public hearing about the zipline on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at 113 S. First St.
Williams said he had received seven letters from residents, six of which were in favor of keeping the zipline and one of which was against keeping the zipline.
Logan Checketts, the zipline's owner, started the meeting by telling the commission that both ends of the attraction are in the Central Business District (CBD). The tall towers of the ride are in the Historic Preservation Zone, which is an overlay of the CBD.
"In the Central Business District, amusement and activities of that nature are an approved use," Checketts said.
He continued by quoting the city code's description of permitted uses in the Historic Preservation Zone.
"Any use permitted by the existing zones over which historic district zoning is superimposed shall be allowed," he said.
Checketts added that the zipline generates revenue for the city, employs about 15 people, and draws people to town.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, former commissioner John Holst brought up a pamphlet that he found on the city website that said special use permits were granted for a period of one to 30 days, so the zipline did not qualify.
"It is very distinct in that special use is intended to be a temporary use based on an event," he said. "If not it's a structure."
City Building Inspector Tim Pettit said he had not seen the pamphlet before and it was not a part of the adopted city code.
"In our code it says special uses are those that are used that are temporary," he said. "It doesn't give a time frame for this temporary use."
Holst said since the ride is in concrete, it is semi-permanent. Pettit said the zipline is a temporary structure because the bolts can be removed and the ride can be taken down.
Thomas Ross also spoke, saying historically attractions were located along Route 66 to get people to pull over.
"The zipline I think sort of fits in with our theme in Williams and along with Route 66, not just because of the old cars and the 50s and 60s music," he said. "It kind of makes people take a break, and stop, and it's just one more thing to do while you're in Williams."
Holst spoke a second time, saying the zipline overshadows improvements made to the downtown area like the Pocket Park, which he called heartbreaking.
"The fact is over the last 30 years there has been a lot of time and effort and money put into a very small area that is very fragile in its existence," he said. "If more things get taken away from it, it won't have appeal that it does now. It brings the people to this community that then ride ziplines, or go to restaurants or go to the clubs. And we want to protect it."
Patty Williams, who serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the zipline interferes with community events near the stage and Rec Center. She also said she disliked the noise from the zipline.
"As nearby residents, it's kind of unsettling every time you go outside in your yard to relax a little bit to hear some woman screaming at the top of her lungs," she said. "It's like, 'What is that, should I call the police? Oh, that's the zipline.'"
Sean Casey, the CEO of Bearizona, said he didn't like the precedent the city was setting for future business.
"To put new businesses through some of what these guys have had to go through..." he said. "What's the future zipline going to do? They are going to come in and have to deal with some of this less than professional hoops and decisions made. And maybe they'll just go to Flagstaff."
Casey added that based on his background in tourism, he predicted the zipline company would make more money in the second year.
"The city is going to get more money by increased visitation," he said.
Jerry Anthony said the city should keep the zipline because it generates revenue.
"What pays most of our salaries and our living and our way of life in Williams? Tourism," he said. "And what draws tourism in? Attractions."
Anthony added that with the amount of money the company invested in the zipline compared to its profits, he was surprised the owners wanted to come back.
"This is positive for this town, and the fact that they want to support us, we need to support them," he said.
Holst spoke again saying that the zipline did not belong in the Historic District. He quoted a portion of the city code about permitted signs as saying, "The City Council finds Williams as a unique and historic community that has traditionally depended on tourism. That tourism is affected by the visual quality and character of the city," he said. "I think that's what we're trying to keep up."
After the public comments, the commission considered the issue.
Massey asked about the long-term plan for the zipline.
Checketts said he didn't want the zipline to have to go before the commissions and council every year.
"We didn't come here with it and spend the kind of money that we did to just be up today and gone tomorrow," he said. "We hope that the city of Williams feels like it's a benefit to the growth of the city, to the town, and the businesses. So we hope to be around."
Pettit reminded the commission the zipline was on public property.
"There's no way it will ever be permanent," he said. "This will always have an agreement attached to it."
Williams said while he enjoyed listening to the public's comments, the vote would mainly take into account one issue.
"It is not up to Planning and Zoning to give you or take away the zipline," he said. "It is our job to see that it complies with the rules and regulations of the city."
Smiley said the concerns about the stage area and park should be addressed by the council.
"It's my understanding that we have come close to a direct interpretation of the use of that zoning area for this particular special use permit," he said.
Smiley added that the city should value the investment that the zipline company had made in the community.
"I think it's important to note that we need to be a very friendly business location if we are going to want to prosper and grow," he said.
After the meeting, Checketts said in an email that the public hearing process had been beneficial.
"It has initiated the opportunity for a diplomatic process of government to happen and address issues I think the council members were interested in knowing more about," he said. "Key issues have been addressed and valuable information about the zoning and public opinion has been gathered. That information will assist them in their decision."