Arizona court to hear Flagstaff hospital’s challenge to ballot referendum

FLAGSTAFF — Northern Arizona Healthcare’s challenge of a ballot referendum regarding the construction of its new hospital campus will be back in front of a judge on Thursday morning in the Arizona Court of Appeals.The hospital system claims voters who signed Flagstaff Community First’s petition for the referendum, known as Proposition 480, “were not given accurate information about NAH’s new hospital project,” NAH said in a statement originally announcing its request on July 26.”The referendum petition voters signed says the site will be used to construct retail and commercial space, with no mention of health care facilities. In fact, under the terms of the zoning ordinance, NAH is not allowed to construct retail and commercial space on the hospital site,” it said.Arizona case law requires a court to disqualify any referendum from the ballot if the description “communicates objectively false or misleading information” about the measure being referred.The challenge was previously struck down by Coconino County Superior Court Judge Brent Harris on Aug. 4 who in his decision said, “by failing to include every possible example of permitted uses the committee (Flagstaff Community First) did not act in a fraudulent or misleading manner or promote falsehood upon the voting public that may choose to weigh in on the referendum.”In May, the Flagstaff City Council voted to rezone a large swath of undeveloped land near Fort Tuthill County Park for the first phase of the new hospital project which includes a new 700,000-square-foot hospital. If approved, construction is expected to cost $800 million and be completed in 2027.It is the new project’s second phase that is expected to include housing, a hotel and health care-centered retail and restaurants to round out the health and wellness village.Soon after the City Council decision, various community groups formed the Flagstaff Community First coalition, which eventually collected thousands of community signatures leading to the approval of Proposition 480 to appear on the ballot.“This is a victory for democracy and Flagstaff voters. More than 5,000 Flagstaff voters signed our petition to put the rezoning decision on the ballot,” said Todd Matthews, a member of Flagstaff Community First after Harris’ ruling. “I am very pleased that the court recognized that NAH’s accusations were completely without merit. NAH should honor the clarity of the court’s ruling.”You can watch a livestream of the oral arguments in the case on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. on the court’s YouTube page.Reach the reporter at Republic’s coverage of northern Arizona is funded, in part, with a grant from Report for America. To support regional Arizona news coverage like this, make a tax-deductible donation at

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