Q & A: AutoCamp shares vision for Williams
AutoCamp Acquistion Manager Bernie Correa and Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Development Stephen Kallaher met with the Williams News at Cooper Ranch to explain their proposal to rezone the 160-acre Cooper Ranch property from the General (G) zone to Resort Commercial (RC) zoning to accommodate an AutoCamp business.
Company representatives had the opportunity to speak about their outdoor lodging proposal as they seek rezoning.
AutoCamp is hoping to add the Williams location to its portfolio of luxury camping properties that include locations such as Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Zion, Cape Cod, Russian River and the Catskills.
If the Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission approves the rezoning, it would change the current zoning from 16, 10-acre parcels and allow AutoCamp to create a commercial business that 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 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.
WGCN: How do you see this development being beneficial to the community of Williams?
Corea: We have really thought through a great onsite experience, but that’s only half of the AutoCamp experience, the other half is getting into town and experiencing all the great things that make Williams unique.
Kallaher: What we want to provide is an elevated experience that just doesn’t exist here in the county. AutoCamp itself is not the destination. It’s the means to get into the outdoors and experience what this whole Williams area has to offer, including the Grand Canyon. We offer minimal food and beverage at the AutoCamp, so that folks can experience the town of Williams, go to the restaurants, the shops and spend time in the town.
WGCN: Why Williams?
Corea: It really checks off some boxes being close to some great outdoor recreation opportunities, obviously you have the Grand Canyon, but even closer you have great lakes, lots of cool hiking and also it’s in the immediate proximity of a really charming town, which is Williams.
WGCN: Who is your target group?
Kallaher: It’s a mix, a lot of different folks. Some local folks coming up from Phoenix, certainly from the region, other areas of the country and international as well.
Corea: The types we see visiting AutoCamp are split into equal quarters — adventurous families, active retirees, professionals and group and event businesses.
Kallaher: We don’t like to use the term “glamping,” it connotes being unapproachable. We don’t think of ourselves as that way. We call ourselves outdoor lodging. We’re helping people get into the outdoors that might not be comfortable otherwise.
WGCN: How are you different from other luxury camping businesses?
Corea: One of the main things is we are here to make a long term investment. Many others are just here seasonally.
Kallaher: We are growing nationally and also looking internationally as well. We have a number of projects under development in different stages. Some are under construction, we just opened Joshua Tree last week. Zion is under construction, Asheville, North Carolina is starting construction soon. Catskills in New York is under construction. Our goal is not to just be a temporary company but a long term company.
We want to be a fixture in the community and a good neighbor in the community. We’re not trying to be seasonal and come in part time, we will operate year round. We’ll employ people year round, locally. We would like to be a part of the community.
WGCN: Who will be your workforce and where will they live?
Kallaher: We plan to hire around 40 employees, hopefully locally, but we know that’s a concern. We have a product that has a culture and we are looking for long term employees. We understand the challenges for affordable housing. We will have someone on staff 24 hours a day. We’re adding on the option for some employee housing units in the event that the market conditions are such that it’s necessary. We want to have the option of controlling our destiny in that respect.
WGCN: What about water?
Corea: Fairly extensive diligence has gone into this effort. It’s one of the first things we hit head on and we engaged hydrogeologists and well drillers, and spoke with other well owners in the community and we’re comfortable taking on the endeavor of drilling our own well. We believe it’s our only way of securing our own water supply in the future.
WGCN: What if you dig a 3,500-foot well and don’t hit water? Will you then haul water?
Corea: It’s a scenario that could exist, but we feel there is evidence of water in the area. It’s just hard getting to it.
Kallaher: We talked to many different consultants who have informed us that they really feel they are confident they will hit water at 3,500 feet. It went into our analysis to move forward with the project.
WGCN: What are your plans for wastewater?
Corea: All of our utilities, except for power, we’re going to have our own onsite facilities. We will be self-reliant, we aren’t asking the city for anything we’re just doing our own on everything and securing our own destiny. We will have an onsite wastewater system that has been included in our application.
WGCN: Have you considered the unique access to the property?
Corea: Our traffic engineers have done a preliminary traffic analysis and we follow under what would be called a very small development by the county standards. We’ve looked at the impacts on the different lengths of road and we are working with the county right now to really understand what requirements, if any, they will have for our project.
WGCN: What are your plans to mitigate fire danger?
Corea: We are going to have people on site 24/7 watching the property, very different than say homes used for Airbnb’s or any other use that wouldn’t have that onsite regulation. The second part of that is the fire wise plan, the mitigation plan, which we are developing with our consultants.
WGCN: Will there be future expansion?
Kallaher: Well that would have to be approved later on, but we aren’t looking to do that. We’re trying to have a minimal impact development. We are approaching it much more holistically than just doing it the easiest way. We look at it different. Hopefully as people become more educated with what AutoCamp is, and how we approach development. They will be less concerned.
What we would like to get across is the type of development we are. There’s a narrative out there that we are a campground with people coming in and drinking too much and starting fires and acting in a way that wouldn’t be conducive to the neighborhood and that’s the furthest from the truth. We really want to be good neighbors and this is a very family friendly operation.
Some responses have been shortened and paraphrased for editorial space.