Sedona residents aren’t too happy about a new program that’ll allow homeless workers to sleep in their vehicles in an empty parking lot. City officials see it as a temporary solution while they continue working on a 30-unit workforce housing project. Here’s everything you need to know!

What Is The Safe Place To Park Program?

The Safe Place to Park program aims to address the lack of affordable, long-term housing in Sedona, Arizona, by providing a ‘legal parking area, necessary amenities, and connections to housing and appropriate supportive services for locally employed people who live in vehicles.’ 

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The parking area will be managed by the Verde Valley Homeless Coalition, and the program will be grant-funded through the Arizona Department of Housing for up to two years – at which point, they hope a more permanent solution will be available.

Sedona Purchased Cultural Park Last Year

The legal parking area will be situated on a 5-acre lot in the northwest corner of the Cultural Park area. The site will give ‘vehicle dwellers’ access to temporary restrooms, showers, and trash bins between 10 pm and 8 am – but will be closed during the day.

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The city purchased the property for $23 million last year. It hasn’t been used in more than 20 years, but city officials feared it would become another hotel or short-term rental unit – so they bought it, and now they’re getting a use out of it.

Sedona City Council Approves Program

On March 12, after more than seven hours of heated debate, city officials approved the program with a 6-1 vote. Vice Mayor Holli Ploog was the only person to vote against the program – but even she admitted to being torn on how to best represent the people.

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Everyone seemed to agree that this was far from the ideal solution, but they also agreed that it was something that could be done right now – and that’s better than doing nothing at all.

City Officials Working On Permanent Solution

Funding for the program is set to run out by June 2026 – at which point a zoning reversal would revoke the specified land use of the parking lot. By then, their proposed three-story, 30-unit apartment complex will be complete.

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The complex, dubbed the Villas at Shelby, will be located at 2250 Shelby Drive on a 1.2-acre parcel that was acquired in December 2022. It’ll be restricted to renters making no more than 60% of the area’s median income.

Residents Heavily Oppose Parking Lot Program

Sedona residents have been letting city officials hear it ever since the program was approved. Many fear the park might become a hub for pollution, drug use, and other illegal and/or criminal activity – devaluing an area that many residents consider a ‘Sedona treasure.’

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“How long before we attract outside activists and our simple rules and regulations are torn apart?” said one angry Sedona resident. “How long before the once sacred ground of our western gateway is desecrated by a full-on homeless encampment? Not long at all.”

Vice Mayor Wants Issue On Ballot For Voters

Vice Mayor Holli Ploog, the only official to vote against the program, said she wishes she ‘had the authority to put this on the ballot’ so the voters could decide what to do – adding that a ballot box is ‘the only way that the people will have a voice.’

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Dr. Bill Noonan, a Sedona resident, agreed with that sentiment. “If the city does pass this misbegotten zoning ordinance, I’ve already prepared, and tomorrow I will file for a ballot referendum so the people of Sedona can correct that mistake,” he said.

Mayor Says Program Isn’t Ideal, But It’ll Help

Scott Jablow, the current Mayor of Sedona, was one of the many who admitted the ‘parking lot program’ isn’t the best way to counter the lack of affordable housing options in Sedona – but he says it’s better than what they were doing (which was nothing).

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“I don’t think there’s anybody up here or staff that are extremely proud of this. This is a last-ditch effort,” Jablow said. “No one’s really proud because this isn’t really the answer. It’s one of many answers.”

Supporters Want Residents To Show Compassion

While the program has its fair share of opposition, it also has a great deal of support from residents who want others to show a little compassion for those affected by the rising cost of homes in Sedona. While not ideal, the program will keep those people in town and safe.

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One Sedona minister says this is the perfect opportunity ‘to display who we are as a community’ and a chance for residents to display their humanity and hospitality to those in need.

Council Member Says Time Is Right

Council member Melissa Dunn argued that there’s ‘never going to be a time for us to do this’ and if they don’t take action now, then those people will either end up living on the street or in the forest in unsafe conditions.

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“So it just feels like this is time for us to do what might be uncomfortable but probably in the long run is the best thing for our community. These people are residents here, they are part of our community and to deny that because they live in their cars just feels incorrect to me,” she said.

Sedona Workers Being Priced Out Of Homes

According to Zillow, the median rent in Sedona right now is north of $3,000 per month – more than 50% higher than the national average. Home prices have skyrocketed above $930,000 – a rise of more than 75% since 2019.

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As a result, Sedona residents are quite literally being priced out of their homes and forced to live out of their vehicles. This is especially true among the working class – those who work in shops, restaurants, and other businesses vital to the city’s success.

Short-Term Rentals Exacberating The Problem

Known for its picturesque views and beautiful red rock formations, Sedona has become a major tourist destination over the past few years and currently draws in more than three million visitors every year. Unfortunately, that’s not helping the housing issue.

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More tourists mean more hotels and short-term rental units – as opposed to affordable housing options for residents. Since 2020, short-term rentals have increased from 744 units to 1,089 units – and that number is only going to increase.

Sedona Homeowner Criticizes Those Who Oppose Program

One Sedona homeowner, who has lived in the area for 25 years, criticized his neighbors for not wanting to help ‘members of our community’ – further emphasizing that these are ‘members who already exist in our community and who are positively affecting it.’

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“All I hear are justifications from those who want to deny peace and safety to their peers,” he said. “Sitting here tonight I’ve heard those against this refer to potential participants as animals, vagrants and drug dealers and the parking area as a zoo, all while proudly trumpeting their ignorance about the struggle these people face.”