Sedona City Council Candidate Q&A: Derek Pfaff

Age: 53

Time in Sedona: Eight years

Background: “I was born and raised in Phoenix, studied classics and anthropology and went to law school, all at the University of Arizona. I have practiced real estate law for the past 26 years. I met my wife, Amanda, in Tucson and we have been married for 25 years. We have two teenage children we grew up in Sedona, one is still here and the other just moved to Tucson to attend the U of A.

“I served on the Sedona Historic Preservation Commission from 2016 to 2022 and attended the Sedona Police Department’s Community Police Academy in 2022. Both were informative and rewarding experiences. Over the years I have volunteered at West Sedona School and Sedona Red Rock High School.

Q: How do you propose to amend, change or repeal Sedona’s building code to help solve the housing shortage?

A: “Existing building and land codes should be left largely intact to preserve the character of Sedona – for example, I don’t want high-rises anywhere in Sedona. Sedona should continue to implement the development incentives and affordable housing guidelines and continue efforts to attract developers to build workforce housing. When necessary to allow projects to move forward, the Planning and Zoning Commission and Council should consider variances from these codes, as long as safety, quality, functionality and overall appearance are not sacrificed.”

Q: Council is committed to letting the future use of the Sedona Cultural Park be decided by the public. What is your view on how that process should be carried out? Do you support or oppose the restoration of the amphitheater?

A: “The city has already announced a request for proposals regarding the design of the site. That engagement will include managing public outreach and input processes. The city must consider the available options and select the one that best achieves the goal of maximizing public participation.

“I personally don’t want the abandoned amphitheater to be resurrected. Doing so would create another source of traffic, dust and noise. While they don’t attract many tourists, we have the Sedona Performing Arts Center and the Posse Grounds Pavilion as suitable venues for local residents .Tourists are already drawn to Sedona like moths to a flame.Let’s not fan those flames.

“I am concerned about the financial viability of the amphitheater and remain convinced that it would require significant taxpayer subsidies to succeed. It failed once and I fear it will fail again. Proponents of reopening the venue are talking about private investors and benefactors who are prepared to support the venture, but I have seen no indication that solid commitments have been made.

“I am willing to put my personal opinions aside if the resident input process reveals strong public support, a viable business plan and self-sustaining funding sources to reopen. If elected, my personal opinions would take a backseat to the will of my constituents. Still, I expect me that the public input process will confirm that the reopening of the amphitheater has strong support from a small number with a sentimental attachment to the venue and an even smaller number who want to increase tourism.

“Most of the residents I’ve met are opposed to reopening the venue.”

Q: The council has said short-term rentals are a barrier to affordable housing in Sedona. What can the municipality do to reduce STR? What can the municipality lower the median house price to where it is affordable for residents with median income?

A: “Short-term rentals continue to be a major barrier to affordable housing. Let’s face it, ‘affordable’ is relative. As long as I’ve been here, housing in Sedona has been expensive. But before Senate Bill 1350, I knew tons of teachers and others workers who managed to live in Sedona.When the STR frenzy hit, most moved to Cottonwood or other nearby towns.That soon changed when they realized they could get much the same pay without commuting.

“Is short-term rental the only culprit? No. There are many factors that affect house prices that are beyond the government’s control. However, the negative effects of STR could be mitigated if the government returned regulatory powers to local people.

“Because of grandfathering, reintroducing an outright ban would have little effect. My plan for dealing with STRs is to treat them like any other lodging business in terms of safety and accessibility requirements, licensing, taxation, inspections and other regulations. A large part of the attraction of owning a STR is getting the benefit of renting out to tourists but with far fewer burdens placed on hotels.That should end.

“To ensure that we don’t burden those who rent an extra room to make ends meet, part-time residents who let space while living elsewhere or operators who own a small number of units, I would like to see these rules imposed on owners only with more than a certain number of entities under their direct or indirect ownership or control.”

Q: How do you suggest the city act to increase home ownership among workers?

A: “Efforts to bring down housing prices and increase homeownership among workers would be supported by some of the same measures needed to make affordable rents available.

“However, given the limited amount of easily developable land in Sedona, I believe these goals are likely unattainable. The city can inform workers about federal and state programs that assist with home purchases, but I believe it needs to focus on affordable rentals and not make likely futile efforts regarding home ownership.”

Editor’s Note:

There are three open seats on the Sedona City Council in the 2024 election. Incumbent Sedona City Councilwoman Kathy Kinsella, challenger Derek Pfaff, incumbent Sedona Vice Mayor Holli Ploog and challenger Katherine Todd are the four candidates vying for three seats. Election day is Tuesday, July 30.

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