Plans to build a 20-room motel in Pine is drawing considerable interest from residents, evident during a recent meet and greet event last weekend as well as an earlier online meeting.
Two dozen residents came out for the meet and greet Saturday at the Rusty Pine Cone and 90 people attended a Zoom hearing Feb. 22 hosted by Gila County’s planning and zoning commission.
Everyone is interested to learn what property owner Marc Pendergraft has planned. Pendergraft has applied for a special use permit, the first step in the process to build a 20-room motel project on a commercially zoned property on Highway 87 in Pine. It is the same property where his parents Gene and Leigh Pendergraft own and operate the Rusty Pine Cone.
The special use permit notice caught community members by surprise, and 90 people attended the Zoom hearing on Feb. 22 to voice their concerns over the proposed project. There will be at least one more hearing before a permit is issued. Gila County officials said a date had not been set for the next permit hearing.
On social media, almost 50 residents voiced concerns about the project, some saying they believe it could be detrimental to the community.
“This is affecting the rural small town that Pine has been for generations,” said Melanie Bailey, who attended the Zoom hearing.
Pendergraft, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, and his business partner, John Abhay Modi, were surprised by the vehemence with which some community members spoke about the project.
The partners held the meet and greet on Saturday at the Rusty Pine Cone, inviting community members to come talk to them about the project.
“Twenty to 30 residents came in to ask questions and offer suggestions, one or two even stated, ‘I just don’t want to see Pine grow,’” said Pendergraft.
“We want to work with everyone,” said Modi, “to be sure it is safe and beneficial to the town.”
About a dozen protesters walked along Highway 87, just north of the Rusty Pine Cone, toting protest signs and gaining supportive honks from drivers.
The protesters have voiced many concerns. One of the first is water.
This property is served by the Pine Water Association Domestic Water Improvement District (PWADWID), confirmed Melvin Clement, water district chair.
“We have the ability to provide them water,” Clement said. “Legally, I have to provide them with water.”
PWADWID has no connection to or affiliation with the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District. PSWID serves most Pine-Strawberry.
PWADWID secured surface water rights to Pine Creek in the late 1800s and have maintained those rights. They can only serve the 58 properties that are in their district, most of which are the commercial properties on Highway 87 in Pine.
Concerned community members asked about the visual change to the charm of downtown Pine. The proposal is for a two-story building with solar panels on the roof.
Pendergraft and Modi sighted the Pine Strawberry Community Plan completed by community members in 2014 and adopted by Gila County as a guideline for how Pine-Strawberry sees growth and change in the future.
“Future development should be focused around Pine-Strawberry being a tourism hub. Development supported by the community includes lodging and bed-and-breakfasts,” according to the plan.
“We want a mom and pop feel,” Pendergraft said. “We want to preserve the small town look, and use environmentally friendly, sustainable building practices.”
There are about 160 Airbnb properties in Pine-Strawberry, according to Pendergraft’s research. This has some residents questioning if they need more lodging. Others suggested visitors stay at hotels in Payson.
A motel in downtown Pine affords people a place to stay where they can walk to local businesses and festivals, as opposed to adding to more traffic in the more rural part of Pine, said Pendergraft.
Those opposed also cite the community plan as to why they are opposed.
“Traffic flow and a walkable” community are listed as desirable, something protesters foresee this project damaging. Several had concerns about the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department having ingress and egress to the property and the added cars coming in and out of Highway 87.
They also made comments as to why a more thought out plan was not submitted.
A use permit is the first step in a lengthy process. Pendergraft and Modi will have to follow all Gila County codes and there will be ample time for the PSFD to review plans not only for ingress/egress but also compliance of fire codes.
If approved, then Pendergraft and Modi will work with architects, engineers and the county where the proposed project will meet the reality of what they can accomplish.