'Glamping’ development proposed for Cooper Ranch in Williams
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Nearly 160 acres of prime ranch property with endless views of the San Francisco Peaks to the east and Bill Williams Mountain to the south, that is also a popular habitat for bald eagles, elk and deer, is under consideration for a commercial development near Williams.
A pioneering lodging company, which hosts travelers in upscale, aluminum Airstream travel trailers, lavish tents and cabins, hopes to turn the historic ranch property into a commercial “glamping” location.
The California-based luxury camping business, AutoCamp, is hoping to add the Williams location to its portfolio of “glamping” properties that include locations such as Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Zion, Cape Cod, Russian River and the Catskills.
The company recently withdrew an application for a property in Sedona near Bear Mountain after tribal leaders and a coalition of local residents opposed a similar luxury camping development because of the rural location, increased chance for wildfire and impacts on sacred sites.
According to the Williams’ AutoCamp rezoning proposal recently submitted to Coconino County Planning and Zoning, the proposed project includes 150 campsites, consisting of custom Airstream trailers, small cabins and canvas tents. The development will also include a 6,000 square-foot clubhouse with a swimming pool, a maintenance building, staff housing, a group gathering space, and a small general store stocked with “locally sourced food” and camping gear for guests.
The applicant is asking Coconino County to rezone the 160-acre ranch property from General (G) zone to Resort Commercial (RC) zoning. The current zoning allows the parcel to be split into 16, 10-acre parcels.
The proposed project will cluster the campsites on approximately 40 acres in the northwest corner of the 160-acre property, with the main access off of Cooper Ranch Road. The property will be gated with punch key access for guests.
The Cooper Ranch property lies on an isolated parcel of land surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land and the city of Williams.
The property is not connected to the city of Williams’ water and waste water systems, but has electricity serviced by APS. Access to the property is via Cooper Ranch Road, a dirt road with a history of seasonal flooding, which is maintained by the city of Williams through an IGA with Coconino County. AutoCamp estimates the development will generate 280 daily trips to the location.
In the application, AutoCamp states plans to dig an onsite well to provide water for the project and install an onsite wastewater treatment system. Each campsite will be attached to the systems, with waste treated on site. The wastewater is expected to generate 23,500 gallons per day.
Wells in the Williams area are some of the deepest in the country, the most recent well dug by the city of Williams reached depths of 3,500 feet and cost nearly $4 million.
John Kling has lived across the road from Cooper Ranch for 36 years and is adamantly opposed to the AutoCamp project.
“Everyone here has 10 acre lots, we have deer every morning and every afternoon that cross our property, that’s going to change,” he said. “There are elk and eagles, and with that camp up there with all the traffic coming in and out, it’s going to change the whole character of the neighborhood. We are still going to love it out there, but it’s going to detract from the beauty and the quietness.”
Kling said he was aware of the zoning for Cooper Ranch when he purchased his 10 acres in 1985.
“Historically we knew that you had to have 10 acres per home, but having this project come across our desk was surprising,” he said. “We are very concerned about how it’s going to affect us personally, we are adjacent to it, three of us are retired law enforcement. We know these urban campers are going to come out there and drink, smoke, have fires for their kids, and they are not going to appreciate the land and the city of Williams as we do.”
Part of the appeal of the property is the rural nature and the lack of traffic, Kling said.
“We built a custom home in 2007, we had to put in an alternative septic system, a 2,000 gallon water tank, and I bought a 525 gallon water trailer,” he said. “So two or three times a month I go to Bearizona to fill up. It’s just part of living out there, it’s why we bought the property.”
Kling and neighbor Dennis Nelson have formed the Cataract Lake Neighborhood Association, a group of residents opposed to the AutoCamp proposal.
The group’s leading concern is the location of the project, and the impact on the surrounding properties.
“We believe this project is completely inappropriate for this location and we oppose any attempt to change the zoning of the property from general to resort commercial,” Nelson said. “This project location is completely at odds with preserving the neighborhood character of the greater west Williams residential area. Many of these residences are mountain retreats that have been in our families for decades.”
If the project is approved, one of the group’s leading concerns is the potential fire risk the development would pose.
“Think of the potential of a forest fire as a result of one careless person flipping a cigarette butt or setting off fireworks in or near the forest, not to mention the campfires on the property itself,” said Richard Kush, who lives on Cooper Ranch Road. “This not only endangers our property and homes, but our lives as well.”
The group also believes the Cooper Ranch property falls under the definition of an “inholding” as described by the Coconino County Comprehensive Plan, which states that large resort commercial uses should only be located in areas that can be served by roads, water, sewer and other public facilities and services.
Although the proposal is in the preliminary phases, the city of Williams has recognized the complexity of the project based on its location and proximity to the city. The city drafted a statement to Coconino County addressing several concerns with the proposal, which include resort access, road conditions, road maintenance, emergency response, water availability, wastewater discharge and traffic impacts.
“When this development first came to the city of Williams in consideration of annexation and rezoning, they were told this property is not able to be adequately served by public roads, water, sewer or other facilities or public safety responders at this time nor anytime in the near future,” said Williams City Manager Tim Pettit. “All of these issues — water, wastewater, traffic, public safety and adequate infrastructure continue to be concerns for the city of Williams.”
Pettit said the city would like to meet with Coconino County development staff to address the concerns and gain a better understating of how the city and county can work together to alleviate the issues this development will create, if it moves forward.
The AutoCamp proposal is in the preliminary steps with Coconino County Planning and Zoning. As part of the planning process, AutoCamp will hold a public informational meeting Jan. 4 at 5 p.m. at Grand Canyon Brewery, 301 N. 7th Street in Williams.