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2/18/2014 10:08:00 AM
Williams Historic Preservation Commission not thrilled with Route 66 Zipline
Group votes 5-0 to deny special use permit for attraction located in downtown Williams
Laura and Megan Snelling ride the zipline in Williams the first day the attraction was open. The zipline's future in Williams is uncertain. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Laura and Megan Snelling ride the zipline in Williams the first day the attraction was open. The zipline's future in Williams is uncertain. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The Route 66 Zipline met with disapproval at its first of three scheduled public hearings Feb. 11.

The Historic Preservation Commission unanimously voted to deny the company's application for a special use permit to continue operating the zipline at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Route 66.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will put on another public hearing tomorrow at 7 p.m. Depending on the recommendations from the two commissions, the Williams City Council may put on a third public hearing on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. Both meetings will take place at the city council chambers, 113 S. First St.

Logan Checketts, the zipline's owner, spoke first at the meeting, quoting the homepage of the city of Williams' website.

"'The town boasts a rich heritage that features the Old West and Route 66 coupled with tourism trends today and the town's heyday years of the '50s and '60s,'" he said. "I think that that's exactly where zipline fits in."

Checketts said the company spent more than $80,000 to make the ride fit in with the Route 66 theme, whereas the company's other 40 ziplines do not have a theme.

With 14,000 people riding the zipline last year, it brought in $30,000 to the city.

According to Checketts, 95 percent of the business people he spoke to in the historic district had positive or neutral feelings toward the zipline.

Checketts acknowledged not everything was perfect about the zipline. After learning the white lettering on the two tall poles were not in compliance with regulations, Checketts said he would remove them if he got approval to stay in town. He added that he would keep the zipline open on Sundays at the request of business owners.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, nine people spoke. Seven favored giving the zipline another year in town and two objected to its location in the historic downtown area.

Among those in favor of keeping the zipline was Teresa Stevens. The owner of the Sultana and Canyon Club said the zipline was an asset to the community and she supported Checketts.

"I don't know of any communities in northern Arizona that have a zipline like Williams does right now," she said. "I think he deserves another chance, one more year to see if he can make it go even better."

Vanessa Stoffel of Bearizona said the zipline fits in well with the downtown area.

"We are a unique destination and this is a unique project and activity for people to do," she said. "The work that's gone into the design is very important in bringing new life into the west end of town, which from a revitalization standpoint and historic standpoint needs a lift."

Josh Peasley, one of the owners of Cruisers Café and Grand Canyon Brewery, said he likes the zipline being in town because it provides something to do for kids.

"I think he got a late start last season, we had record rains and it slowed down the business," he said. "Everyone deserves a second chance to see what kind of a profit you can bring."

Thomas Ross, owner of I-40 Fleet Services, responded to the people who said the zipline doesn't fit in with the downtown area by saying that might be a good thing. He brought pictures of some of the buildings located across the street from the zipline, including a gray building.

"It looks like an apartment with some metal bars on the window located right next to the Canyon Club," he said. "I don't like the idea of having anything fit in with that."

He added that the zipline might encourage people to make a loop around Route 66, seeing more than the usual 'T' they see from coming down Grand Canyon Boulevard and walking a short ways in each direction on Route 66.

"If people got to walk down to the end of the block to get on the zipline to ride, maybe they'll cross over where the gas station is and they'll pick up, 'Oh look there's some more souvenir shops' and work their way back around," he said.

Among those against keeping the zipline was Yvette Hudson, who said the zipline did not fit the city's zoning code for the historic preservation zone.

Hudson quoted the section of the city's code describing the purpose of the area: "(The zone) is also intended that new or remodeled buildings, located within zoned historic districts, be designed and constructed to harmonize with buildings located within the immediate vicinity in order to preserve property values, to provide for future development and to promote an awareness of the heritage of Williams, Arizona among residents of and visitors to the community."

Hudson continued by saying that the city code calls for changes to a zoned historic building to "be no higher than the tallest comparable feature of the existing structure or adjacent structures."

After writing to the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office, architect Robert Frankeberger responded to Hudson, saying that the mayor and council should consult the Historic Preservation Commission in matters that can affect the district.

Hudson served on the commission for six years, and said the zipline did not fit in with the downtown area.

"This turned one of the most historic areas in the city of Williams into nothing but a carnival atmosphere," she said.

John Holst, owner of the Red Garter Bed and Bakery said the commission should not base its decision on "warm and fuzzy feelings" people had about the zipline.

"I really expected today to have the commission looking at what doesn't meet the criteria that you judge every other project with, whether it's a building, a structure or anything else that's going to affect the historic district," he said. "It's actually got to fit in with the district and it has to be an asset to that."

Holst added that the zipline might be a benefit to the city in another location.

"This is not the kind of thing that we want to have be a landmark for our community," he said. "It ought to be where a zipline should be located-somewhere scenic, someplace that gives you a view."

In responding to questions from the commissioners, Checketts said he didn't come before the commission originally because he didn't realize he had to, he chose the downtown location because it has the best foot traffic, the zipline took up nine parking spots, and the price to ride the zipline would remain the same if allowed to stay but he would potentially offer a discount for locals.

Checketts also explained that the company planned to move one of the ziplines if allowed to stay, since one ride could handle the current demand. He added that each zipline was a $300,000 investment and that the company could get better returns on one of the rides in another city.

"With the demand that we thought we were going to get compared to what our actual performance was, we were pretty disappointed," he said.

Commissioner Mike Besler called removing one of the rides "stupid."

"You say you want to invest in the community but now you're de-vesting in the community," he said.

Commissioner Jim Bultema wrapped up the meeting by saying the fact that Checketts did not come before the commission the first time around was water under the bridge. He said the main question was if the ride's poles take away from the historic district.

Commissioner Norma McDowell said the main question was if the ride violated city code.

Besler said regardless of the economic impact the ride has on the city, the commission's decision would set a precedent.

"What happens when the carousel guy comes in and he wants to put a carousel in, and of course we maybe say no, and then they point to you and say, 'Well you let this guy in,' even though we actually didn't," he said. "It was not our decision from the beginning."

After the meeting, Checketts said in an email he was still optimistic about the future of the zipline and was looking forward to the Planning and Zoning meeting.

"It's sort of a funny deal when you walk away from a 5-0 vote against the zipline feeling really good about a meeting. As far as I could tell, besides two people in the audience, everyone else in the meeting was supportive of the zipline and how it fits in with the town," he said. "The Historic Commission was left up to their own interpretation of the code, but in P&Z it is much clearer; the city code allows for amusements to be in the Central Business District, which is where the zipline sits."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2014
Article comment by: laurie harwood

What the hell happened with the artilcle about the water shortage? It doesn't matter. I am contacting channel 3 and 12 news. Have fun living in the past.

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2014
Article comment by: laurie harwood

I wote about the water issue, a while back. We can't solve this, but things should have been put in place a long time ago. No hosing down driveways, and patios. I will not be able to keep my prenials alive, other than bath water.

Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2014
Article comment by: Linda Creager

why don't they re-locate the zip line in a wooded area on the mountain

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014
Article comment by: This town is hopeless

Bud Smith, you are totally right. These things have nothing to do with the old west. While we are at it, all these restaurants that have that fancy electricity garbage, modern cooking devices, etc need to go as well!! That isn't how they did it in the old west! Oh, and those automobiles need to go as well! Back when real men were around, they used their horses and legs to get around. And we don't need paved roads, either! It ruins the nostalgic feel of the old west! We should also demolish all the houses too. Want shelter? Make a tent between the trees! Sleep in your wagon! That is how we really make Williams just like the old west, let's get to it! I will happily turn in my automobile, shelter, and cooked food as soon as you do!

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014
Article comment by: John Savere

I have an idea. How about keeping the zip line and using the proceeds given to the City to fund the swimming pool year round. That would be a decent trade off for the residents of Williams.

Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Article comment by: what what

It is really a shame when John Holst is the only one who realizes what the Historic Preservation Commission is supposed to be doing. He states exactly what criteria the commission should use in determining whether they give the zip-line the thumbs up or not.

They can vote no, then it moves to the planning and zoning commission. Then the city council can approve it on whatever bogus reason they want to, just like they did with the granting of the sign variences to Loves.

Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Article comment by: Bud Smith

I wish they would remove this eyesore as fast as they put it up! And while I'm at it remove the pot shop which sells addictive marijuana. None of these things have anything to do with the old west.

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