Italian company asks to access land near Grand Canyon

(Rick Hossman | AP file photo) Tourists hike along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon, Ariz.

Flagstaff, Ariz. • An Italian real estate company that has long eyed development outside the Grand Canyon’s South Rim again is seeking permission to improve forest roads and run utilities to its property in the tiny town of Tusayan.

Stilo Development Group USA and Tusayan asked the U.S. Forest Service this month to grant easements to two pieces of land where Stilo plans to build a resort, an RV park and other lodging and where the town wants housing.

The Forest Service dealt a huge blow to the plans in 2016 when it said the development would "substantially and adversely" affect the Grand Canyon and nearby tribal lands and kept it from moving forward.

The latest proposal reflects changes in what had been major concerns — water use and size. Stilo agreed not to pump water from the ground for commercial use, instead trucking in up to 275,000 gallons (1 million liters) a day. Groundwater still could be used for homes. The company also reduced the size of the commercial development.

"We've learned that water always was, always will be the No. 1 concern, and we'd like to address that upfront this time just to make sure that everybody understands that there is some willingness on the developer to do what's right," Tusayan Mayor Craig Sanderson said.

More than 6 million people a year pass through Tusayan on their way to the Grand Canyon. The town of about 600 was incorporated in 2010 as a way for Stilo to develop two pieces of land known as Kotzin and Ten-X, which together are about 360 acres (0.5 square miles). Most of the land in Tusayan is in private hands, and employees largely live in company housing.

The Kaibab National Forest will review the proposal to ensure it aligns with existing laws and regulations. If not, it goes back to the developer. If it checks out, the forest would do an environmental review and open it for public comment.

"We are at the very early stages," forest spokeswoman Jackie Banks said.

Tusayan owns 20 acres (8 hectares) on each of the two ranch properties where it wants to build housing. An off-grid development was put on hold earlier this year because the town didn't have approval to build in a flood plain or approval to exceed spending limits to maintain the construction site.

Stilo envisions paving forest roads and running water, sewer, natural gas and telecommunications lines along them to make way for commercial and residential development, with more than 2,500 hotel rooms and about 250 RV spaces. A resort, conference center, spa or dude ranch with lodging could go up on one property. The other property would be a pedestrian-friendly development that lets tourists learn about the region's geology, Native American culture and other things, Stilo spokesman Andy Jacobs said.

The proposal doesn't provide much detail about water use. But Jacobs said the commercial development could be served by water sent on the railroad and trucked in or through an old coal slurry line that served a power plant along the Nevada-Arizona border.

It's also unclear when any development, first proposed by Stilo in the late 1980s, would start.

"I would hope in the next couple of years we can get a shovel in the ground and make it through all these processes. But they're impossible to predict," Jacobs said. "When you look at full build-out, that's into years and decades."

Hundreds of thousands of people commented on the last application for easements. Sanderson said he'd rather not see one of the roads so close to the school and built so that tourists can bypass much of the town and existing businesses.

Grand Canyon National Park expressed concern about water use, noise, traffic congestion, air quality, and protecting cultural and archaeological sites.

“We will always have concerns about the integrity of park resources. That’s our job,” senior adviser Jan Balsom said.