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home : opinions : commentary May 25, 2016

12/31/2009 2:22:00 PM
My Turn: Mago Park land use clearly incompatible with zoning; shows serious flaws in Cottonwood city government
Steve Block

As we begin a new year, it seems appropriate to ask this timely question:

Could things get any weirder in Cottonwood?

We’re not used to this. For years, the city was a rock-solid bastion of well-managed stability. But in the last year or so, Cottonwood’s treated us to such doozies as a bungled forest annexation, an ill-conceived plan for 20,000-plus new houses in the teeth of a virtually collapsed real estate market, and such tight-fisted funding that the city canceled its annual Easter egg hunt – yet somehow found millions to buy two water companies that don’t even serve city residents.

Now we have unprecedented turmoil created by a 50-foot statue – a Korean version of Mother Earth, we are told. Outraged citizens decry this as many things, but mostly as a terrible visual scar on our cherished views.

When the Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission takes up this issue, it will be very important to understand and prioritize the most relevant factors, and consider only with secondary weight the many tangents. And there are many tangents that can easily obscure and distract from the real issue.

Of marginal significance or completely irrelevant are issues of religion, culture, patriotism, economic development, property tax status, world peace, paganism, consciousness raising and spirituality.

This is a land use issue, plain and simple. P&Z’s job is to properly condition the use permit, if possible, to minimize and preferably eliminate the negative impacts caused by that use.

Most importantly, P&Z needs to square up to this simple fact: the applicant’s current use of the land is clearly incompatible with the zoning.

The best course of action now is for P&Z to yank the conditional use permit and enforce a legally binding cease-and-desist. The only justification commissioners need is the self-evident incompatibility of the use with the zoning.

Then, and only when the current use is discontinued and the big statue is down, consider an application for an entirely new conditional use permit. Require the applicants to provide a complete master plan for the parcel, and then subject that to proper scrutiny for appropriateness and compatibility with the zoning code.

If and when a new conditional use permit is granted, make it for a maximum of one year, and deny any further changes until that year is up. Don’t allow the use to incrementally creep out-of-control, like it is now.

That’s a short-term solution. However, it’s probably more important to take a step back and see the big picture of how we got into this mess in the first place.

A development process that allows what we are seeing out at Bill Gray Road suggests the possibility of deep systemic flaws within the structure of city government in Cottonwood. If these problems are not addressed, and soon, what we’re seeing so far may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider specifically these three issues.

• First, the city of Cottonwood discontinued their Design Review Board, and folded its operation into the Planning and Zoning Commission. In the process they lost an important check and balance built into the system.

In the mid ‘90s, I served on the DRB, and it was a good group. One didn’t have to be a resident to serve and the group typically included contractors, architects, builders, people who had years of local experience in design, construction, landscape, etc. All shared at least one thing in common: a knowledge of what’s “right” for Cottonwood. Obviously this additional level of careful review for compatibility is still needed.

• Second, the city rezoned the church property across the street as CF, Community Facilities, even though churches are not one of the seven use types specified for that zone. There are, amazingly, no restrictions, none whatsoever, on building design, heights, size, etc., in the CF zone. The owners of that land would be entitled to put up a 100-story building out there if they wanted to, and nothing in the code would prevent it. It’s now after the fact, but this was an incorrect rezoning action, and the inherent lack of control in the CF zone is also part of the problem.

• Third, the City reorganized its business structure this year, putting Community Development under the supervision of Utilities. This seems to have turned the priorities of the development process on its head – almost like saying “go ahead and put in those water and sewer lines first, and we’ll worry about the consequences later!”

Isn’t this exactly what’s happened at Bill Gray Road? “Go ahead and put up the big statue now and we’ll worry about the consequences later.”

All this begs a very important question: Seeing how “growth and development” is being handled so far out on Bill Gray Road, can we as a region really trust the City of Cottonwood as the best managing entity for the 10-square mile block of State Trust land?

Previously I suggested we would be wise to conserve that entire block of land as open space and as a potential water resource for future generations. Instead, Cottonwood has proposed building on it a new city the size of Flagstaff.

Holy smokes what’s next.

Wait, I know! How about a 50-foot “Father Sky?” Mother Earth may be getting lonely out there.

Steve Block is a former member of the Cottonwood Design Review Board, and served eight years on the Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission.

Related Stories:
• Letter: Steve Block hit the nail squarely on the head
• New Mago hearing set Jan. 21, maybe

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, January 4, 2010
Article comment by: Jeanene

Awesome, Enough is Enough. What YOU said!

Posted: Sunday, January 3, 2010
Article comment by: Naja

Most likely there will be vacancies in the Cottonwood council and Mayor. Are you running? I would vote for you

Posted: Saturday, January 2, 2010
Article comment by: penelope

Mago - noun - Spanish for magic. Look it up.

Posted: Saturday, January 2, 2010
Article comment by: Susan

Steve,your note shows a lot of experience as well as investigation; thanks for sharing.I have a couple of questions.It seems you are mentioning many situations where you believe City of Cottonwood & P&Z have messed up,so why are so many picking on that statue? Does the church get to stay because it's 'brick& mortar'& the statue is an easy take-down? The statue is about the dimension of a tree; the church so obstructive of views& environment.I am Catholic,I'm just making comparisons in size. If the issue is permits,if they applied for and were provided with permits, why is there such antagonism against them? With respect,Susan

Posted: Saturday, January 2, 2010
Article comment by: Peter Nelson

Thank you , Steve! Do not assume that 'common sense' will prevail in the Cottonwood city government. This is the tip of the iceberg. This is a land use issue (as is the annexation of state trust land). I know we have some libertarians here who don't want anyone telling them what they may or may not do with their private property. However, the folks who put up the statue own a lot of land around here and are not afraid to use it! If the P&Z Commissions becomes focused on the short term (or worse, becomes irrelevant); greed and short term thinking will prevail in the valley. It is P&Z's job to condition the Use Permits to minimize or eliminate the negative impacts of the special use they grant to the applicant. Steve makes the most important point: 'the applicant's current use of the land is clearly incompatible with the zoning.' The Commission would be wise to 'yank the conditional Use Permit and enforce a legally binding cease-and -desist.' We need to hear more from Steve Block and those of you who care about the long term planning in our community. Contact the Mayor, the Commissioners, talk to friends, sign a petition. This is the tip of the iceberg!

Posted: Friday, January 1, 2010
Article comment by: Korean folklore

I think people need to know what Mago is. It does not mean "mother earth" in any language, and absolutely not in Korean. It is one of many Korean folklores and the only historical text the name Mago name is mentioned is in Bu-Do-Ji written by Park Jae-Sang of Shila period. Mago was a ruler of a castle (or a small nation) where people lived in a paradise around 70 thousand years ago. Shamans in Korea still worship her as a deity. Mago does not have any historical context to be mean "mother earth". And it is interesting that the representation of Korean deity is blonde in Roman clothes. This is not the first time Ilchi raised large controversal statue. Ilchi claims himself as reincarnated living dahn gun who was worshiped in Korean as a god. Look at suntao.org which is a religion created by him. Its an irony that Ilchi raised the Mago statue with $1 million dollars to represent peace and harmony and celebrate the mother earth supposedly without any religious intention, while none of his Korean followers (many of them illegal to work in the US) in Mago Garden did not get to visit their home past holiday as usual - some of them closer to 20 years.

Posted: Friday, January 1, 2010
Article comment by: Win Hjalmarson

Well said Steve.

Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009
Article comment by: Jane Moore

Thank you, Mr. Block, for finally bringing some rational thinking into this issue!

Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009
Article comment by: Enough is enough

I agree with Steve Block's comment that the Mago Retreat actions "incrementally creep out of control". The Retreat has used this strategy for at least ten years on both county and city administered lands, by starting projects and taking actions contrary to codes and regulations. When found out, or when challenged, they plead ignorance, smile, and eventually get their way. Incrementalism. Enough is enough.

This should not be considered a matter of religious freedom. A 49-foot tall, painted statue of Christ would be just as inappropriate for the location. The Retreat practices an ever-evolving polyglot of practices and beliefs, borrowing this-and-that and putting a Sedona spin on it. They are first and foremost a money-making business and this has landed them in hot water with the county with a Hearing scheduled in Prescott.

Finally, did you know they have "Mago Healing Rocks" for sale? Made from Sedona "magical" soil taken from a vortex, molded into rock shapes with inscribed symbols. And did you know they claim a "sacred well" on the peace park property? There appears to be a recently drilled well that currently seems to provide water for flushing toilets in their information center. Sacred water?

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