Over the weekend, you may have seen people walking through neighborhoods taking photos and asking questions. No, these people are not tourists in the sense that we understand what a tourist is. These people are with Michael Baker International. If you have not heard of Michael Baker International yet, they are what City officials often refer to as ‘the consultant’, when speaking of the complete rewriting of the zoning ordinances and the current housing needs study and analysis.
LPNN was able to speak with Jennifer Hayes and James Beggs, two of Michael Baker International’s representatives last Friday about the housing study the City of Page has requested. During this discussion, LPNN was able to get a better understanding of who they are, what they are doing, why, and how long the process will take.
To begin, the study is being sponsored by Salt River Project (SRP).
Jennifer let us know that Michael Baker International has been contracted to aid the City in understanding the current housing situation here in Page and provide options for the City to review and consider in handling housing needs in the area.
There are three phases to the project and Michael Baker International is currently on phase one: outreach and data collection. This phase ‘officially’ ends at the end of April, when the community housing survey closes. However, if Jennifer and her team need additional information, they will be contacting the people who can provide that to them.
Since they are still in the outreach and data collection phase, there is not much in the way of numbers or specific data regarding our area that is currently available. However, Jennifer and James did let us know that they have discovered many things about our area, how the study is being conducted, and what types of data they have been collecting.
Understanding the remoteness, uniqueness (including the community and its beauty), Jennifer and James informed LPNN that they will be taking everything Page is into consideration. They will also be “looking at the other factors” that impact a community and its housing. “We can’t really do our job looking at the housing without looking at the demographics, looking at the employment looking at the education, looking at the services, looking at everything else that makes a community function.” But Jennifer and James did emphasize that their main focus is housing.
LPNN asked about employment, and it was noted that “there is a need for diversity in employment…you need to diversify so that if any one thing goes a little bit sideways, you have some balance. We think there might be an opportunity for some diversity in the employment sector”. But please remember, Jennifer and James were here to collect data for a study on Page’s housing needs.
In conducting their study, they will also be looking at similar communities like Kanab and Moab to identify their best practices to include into the report. According to Jennifer, this is so when a specific need within Page needs to be addressed, such as the housing, there will be a list of models and comparisons that are available for the City to review.
The data being collected is public data. Jennifer told us “We use as much public data as we can…. most of our meetings have been with the public, and that’s where we collect our data. We do this, so someone can replicate [our study].” “We are here to find out what the public has to say and they [the public] are the ones who will help corroborate and help verify our data, and help us know what data is good, and what data needs more examination”.
They will also be looking at other studies and research that have been done on the area, whether they are academic or government in nature. “If you don’t look at [other studies] and aggregate what’s there, you can have a very hard time really understanding your problems. That is a fundamental element of our project.”
Citizens and past studies and research are not the only sources providing Jennifer and James with valuable information about our city. During their time here, Jennifer and James also conducted focus groups. The focus groups were targeted toward obtaining information from the businesses throughout Page. “We got good information from every group”.
Michael Baker International is also “going to get an inventory of what’s available. We will have an inventory of land by the time we’re done. And that’s part of the advantage of working with the Phoenix office whose working on the zoning. They’re working on the GIS files and putting the maps together, so they know what’s there.”
For the citizen’s part in the housing study, so Michael Baker International can get the most accurate information from us, there is an online survey you can take; it takes about 5 minutes. “We are doing two kinds of surveys. The online survey everyone needs to take” is the main survey. The people you saw walking around over the weekend, were conducting the second survey. “We do what’s called a windshield survey or property condition survey, so we’re going to be going and looking into some neighborhoods and just checking out the condition of the housing, just to see what’s where, what it looks like, and what opportunities might be there.”
When it comes to the homes themselves, Jennifer let us know “one of the things we really promote is housing choice. Families and people at different phases in [their] lives and in different situations really benefit from having different kinds of housing. There’s the right kind of housing for people, and if they have enough housing choice, people will then be able to select the kind of housing that best fits their needs. So that means you need to have variety, and figuring out what that balance is, is part of the study”. Both Jennifer and James informed LPNN that while the study will have a “laundry list of options” the final decision “come[s] down to what the [City] Council wants to do and what citizens come out and tell the City Council they want to have done”.
Bringing in more housing seems to be the most viable option (at least to this reporter), but how to get the developers here seems to be the largest hurdle. Jennifer let me know that they are “going to be looking into that very closely.”
Michael Baker International is not a ‘fly-by-night’ company. They have highly experienced people on each team. According to their website, Michael Baker International “…provide[s] a full continuum of engineering and consulting services, including design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management. Our clients include U.S. federal, state and municipal governments, foreign allied governments, and a wide range of commercial clients.” “We provide a full continuum of solutions for a broad range of markets, including highways, bridges, airports, rail and mass transit systems, domestic and overseas government and commercial facilities, water and wastewater infrastructure, energy infrastructure and urban planning and development.”
During their short time here, Jennifer, James and the rest of the team have encountered many of the same things in Page as in other areas, just not at the same time. When speaking of this anomaly, Jennifer told LPNN, “This community is unique in that you have a lot of opportunity…a fair amount of resources, …a lot of churning going on in [the] housing market, but not a lot of growth..., you have businesses and [a] growing tourist economy, [and] changing businesses. You [have many] factors we often encounter…one…or two at a time in a community. [There] are [many] happening [here] at the same time. That’s what makes it unique.”
“We [Michael Baker International] are neutral. There’s no benefit to Michael Baker in saying or doing anything that isn’t proven and driven by the data and information we collect..”
At least one representative from Michael Baker International will be back some time around July this year. The study truly just began and will take a while to complete. From here, Jennifer, James and the rest of the team will be collecting and compiling the data, running the numbers, conducting data processing, and looking for trends. They were able to obtain historical data, “so we’ll have historical trends”. Michael Baker International will be providing the City with periodic updates, but it will be up to the City as to whether or not they release any of the updates to the public. Once the final draft is presented to the City Council later this year (around July sometime), it will then become official record. James informed LPNN that Michael Baker International would coordinate with the City in identifying an appropriate way of getting the final report out to the public.
Regarding their experience here, both Jennifer and James stated that “the people here really do care and that’s been fantastic. It really makes it a lot easier to do our jobs when people care”.
Keep on keeping on Page. You are doing great. Keep on getting involved and having your voices heard. This is only done through collaboration, getting to the City’s meetings, and spreading the word of what is going on in our community.
Join LPNN in getting the information out.
If Not YOU, Then Who?
If Not NOW, When?
If you missed the link in the article for the housing survey, click here.
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