Flagstaff’s latest Thorpe Park design centers Indigenous community requests, includes more open space

City staff presented Flagstaff City Council with an updated design on Tuesday for the Thorpe Park Annex that prioritizes a proposed Indigenous Community and Cultural Center (ICCC) alongside ample outdoor space for community gardens, orchards and native plant life.

The design also accounts for an indoor basketball court, a skate park, a new dog park, parking and potential city employee housing.

Public comments on the new design were varied, but city council largely showed support for the updates, which are set to be discussed again (and potentially approved) at the upcoming Dec. 6 meetings.

The updated Thorpe Park design encompassed requests made from Council following what Amy Hagin, city park manager, called “a very robust and honestly healthy conversation” during the last design presentation on Oct. 25

During the late-October meeting, a substantial outpouring of public comment from and in support of Flagstaff’s Indigenous community decried a design that seemed over-dense and put the ICCC — which emerged as a public priority during the designs process — amid a mishmash of activity that would likely be noisy and detrimental to the ICCC’s intended purpose.

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Multiple commenters voiced a need to see less activity and more space dedicated to plant life and openness in the design. Council relayed these requests from the public to city staff, and during Tuesday’s meeting, the updated design satisfied.

“This is very supported,” said Rose Toehe, city coordinator for Indigenous initiatives. “A lot of the comments that I’ve received personally have been that the changes Council asked for are exactly what they had envisioned. They [the Indigenous community] are very happy that this is the concept you will be considering.”

“They also want to express that this will be a community space,” Toehe added. “It will not be just for the Indigenous community.”

The updated design for the 9-acre parcel begins with a relocation of the Thorpe dog park in the northwest corner, west of Aztec Road. Moving clockwise across the plot from there is a 45-stall parking lot, outdoor flex space, the ICCC and traditional ceremony space, ethno-botanical and pollinator gardens, an eight-stall parking lot, potential housing, and then indoor basketball courts, community orchard and gardens, and a skate park in the far southwest corner.

The design also includes substantial planters to create buffers between amenities, Hagin said.

Council did raise some concerns, mainly confirming with Hagin, that the dog park relocation would not create flooding issues and that the vocal pickleball community — whose courts were stripped from this design — could look forward to the development of new courts at the site of the current dog park.

Public commentator Rick Lopez had much more grave concerns.

“As a taxpayer I feel deceived by the city,” Lopez said, elaborating that the city had promised in 2016 to sell the Thorpe Park parcel, not re-design it as a park.

“The new public works yards and the municipal court building were both sold on bonds to the community based on the premise that we would sell the previous properties to help offset the cost of the new buildings,” Lopez said. “That was what was presented, that what was promoted, that’s what the taxpayers believed.”

Lopez added that he was disappointed because “this would be the preeminent space for a tax credit housing development.”

“As far as I know, we declared a housing emergency,” Lopez said. “We didn’t declare a park emergency, or an open space emergency. This would have been the premier spot for a tax credit housing development that would have satisfied the needs of the many. I think this Council has put the wants of the few over the needs of the many.”

To these critiques, Councilmember Jim McCarthy explained that while the current Council was not responsible for the 2016 decision, they were bound by deed restrictions that required the plot to be used a park space.

“A public works yard was never appropriate there,” McCarthy said, defending the decision to turn the parcel back into park. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Housing is still included in the updated design, but it is certainly not a dominant feature of the design. Potential city employee housing in the southeast corner of the plot holds space for at least seven units. That number could change.

“We don’t really know yet,” Hagin responded when asked how many units the design could accommodate. “We feel confident with a minimum of seven units.”

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