A proposal to build a tourist attraction outside Oatman got a boost from the Mohave County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Feb. 3, despite opposition from some downtown Oatman merchants.
The board voted 5-0 to rezone the 56-acre parcel of land from residential to commercial for property owner Tim McCarthy.
McCarthy has ambitious plans designed to bring more tourists – “Europeans and Asians,” he told the board – and provide them with a unique Western experience.
The facility would include horseback riding, ATV rentals, a petting zoo, gold panning, weddings, reptile exhibits, food, drinks, stores, shops and a photo studio right outside of Oatman.
But some in Oatman oppose the proposal. They collected 32 signatures on a petition attached to the agenda and appealed to the board to “keep Oatman historic” and deny the project, already approved 8-1 by the county Planning and Zoning Commission.
Most of the criticism stems from a belief that McCarthy’s facility would hurt downtown businesses by duplicating some services – food, drinks, gold panning and old photos – thus replicating Oatman right outside of Oatman.
Oatman Fire Chief Kathy Jenkins said she is not against the project but doubts if the local fire district and water district can support it.
“We do not have adequate fire protection,” she said, reminding the board that Oatman relies on volunteer firefighters. “And in case of an accident, we don’t have a vehicle to get to the desert where the property is.”
McCarthy’s project would be located right off Oatman Highway/Historic Route 66. While electricity and water appear to be available, sewer does not.
McCarthy addressed some of the issues. He said he realized the water district can’t support the project so he plans to drill a well. He said his business will create 30-40 jobs and will be fully accessible to people with disabilities.
McCarthy said he wants to work with the community, and provide a destination for local schools to take field trips. He said if Oatman lacks the emergency services to support the complex, he would be open to hiring medical or emergency staff.
Supervisors were supportive of the plan.
“I would feel a little uncomfortable denying this request,” said Supervisor Gary Watson of District 1 after hearing all speakers. “It seems that Oatman is looking to establish a non-competition structure in this area.”
He added he doesn’t see how McCarthy’s project would “degrade” Oatman in any way.
“There is a lot of emotion here,” said Chairwoman Jean Bishop of District 4. “We can’t make decisions based on emotions.”
She said she visited Oatman and saw how divided the community was on the subject, with some people against it and others supporting it, often depending on how it would affect their own business.
“It’s a property owner’s right to use his proprty how he sees fit” Bishop said, noting McCarthy will have to go through many hoops and many stages while putting his project together.