By tomorrow, we should know whether the Route 66 Zipline will continue to run in Williams, Ariz. Recent votes by two commissions offer little guidance on how the city council will vote.
That’s because the Historic Preservation Commission unanimously voted earlier this month to deny the business a special-use permit. However, the Planning and Zoning Commission days later unanimously voted to approve the permit with special conditions attached.
The City Council probably will sort this out at 7 p.m. Thursday.
During the historic commission’s meeting, the main objection was the zipline didn’t “fit in” with downtown’s old-fashioned character. Yvette Hudson cited the city’s building code in her opposition:
“(The zone) is also intended that new or remodeled buildings, located within zoned historic districts, be designed and constructed to harmonize with buildings located within the immediate vicinity in order to preserve property values, to provide for future development and to promote an awareness of the heritage of Williams, Arizona among residents of and visitors to the community.”
However, just two residents at the meeting objected to the zipline continuing operations and seven favored giving the business another year. Thomas Ross, owner of I-40 Fleet Services, gave his reasons on why the zipline should stick around:
He added that the zipline might encourage people to make a loop around Route 66, seeing more than the usual ‘T’ they see from coming down Grand Canyon Boulevard and walking a short ways in each direction on Route 66.
“If people got to walk down to the end of the block to get on the zipline to ride, maybe they’ll cross over where the gas station is and they’ll pick up, ‘Oh look there’s some more souvenir shops’ and work their way back around,” he said.
At the planning and zoning meeting, the commission added these conditions to their votes in favor of the zipline:
The first was that the zipline company remove the white lettering on the tall poles that does not meet city regulations. The second was obtaining a performance bond, “in terms of protecting the city in case the organization becomes insolvent that we would be able to recover the damage,” Smiley explained.
It seems the performance bond became more of a priority after Route 66 Zipline didn’t generate much business as its owners forecast.
Planning commission chairman Buck Williams said he received six letters in favor of the zipline and one against.
Then Thomas Ross spoke up with an instructive comment — that many historical attractions on Route 66 were designed to get people “to pull over”:
“The zipline I think sort of fits in with our theme in Williams and along with Route 66, not just because of the old cars and the 50s and 60s music,” he said. “It kind of makes people take a break, and stop, and it’s just one more thing to do while you’re in Williams.”
Jerry Anthony added a related comment:
“What pays most of our salaries and our living and our way of life in Williams? Tourism,” he said. “And what draws tourism in? Attractions.”
I’ll admit to being indifferent to the zipline when it came to Williams and remaining so when it was voted on by the historic commission. But Ross’ remark provided a valuable reminder — that Route 66 isn’t unique just because of historic preservation, but also due to its kitsch factor.
The concrete dinosaurs in Holbrook, Ariz., the half-buried Cadillacs in Amarillo, the 66-foot-tall pop bottle in Arcadia, Okla., and a big blue whale in Catoosa, Okla., are as much a part of the Mother Road as its historic structures. And a few of them — such as the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, Calif. — are kitschy and on the National Register of Historic Places.
UPDATE 3/4/2014: The Williams City Council passed a compromise with the zipline’s owner so it would stay for two more years.