Commission unanimously recommends denial for Meritage rezoning

CAVE CREEK – During last Thursday’s planning commission meeting, Planning Director Ian Cordwell announced there were no cases currently pending, leaving the next planning commission meeting date open.

He then introduced the only item on the Feb. 18 agenda; a request by Meritage Homes for a change in zoning from DR-89 (Desert Rural) to Commercial Buffer (CB).

Chairman David Smith clarified the request before them was only for a zoning change.

Despite the request being for a change in zoning, Meritage presented its request with a conceptual plan for a 56-unit subdivision, made up of duplexes and triplexes on 12.2 acres north of the northwest corner of Carefree Highway and 54th Street.

Cordwell stated, as per the general plan and as part of the specific area plan (SAP), an applicant may request a zoning change up to CB.

He said he recently learned something new … that the town can do conditional zoning.

Commissioner Ted Bryda asked if a traffic study had been done for the area.

Cordwell said that wouldn’t be required until the site plan review.

When Commissioner Dick Frye asked if CB zoning would allow for what the applicant was presenting, Cordwell said it would and they could choose to condition the zoning to allow for what was being presented or less.

Smith questioned how the project was able to meet the minimum lot size requirement of 6,000 square feet.

According to Cordwell, the entire parcel is the lot and each of the dwellings is considered a unit.

Commissioner Dan Baxley asked if the roads would be public or private.

Cordwell said they would be private with easements for the town for utilities.

Greg Davis, representing Meritage Homes, said the SAP allows for multi-family residential (MR) and CB zoning allows for the same. He said the project could be accomplished under either zoning category.

He said they were proposing 56 units, averaging 4.4 units per acre, with two points of access, one on 54th Street and the primary access on 53rd Street.

Davis said the CB zoning would be transitional from the high intensity of Lowe’s and CVS to DR with a 100-foot buffer along the northern boundary and trails that would connect to the larger regional trails.

He said the product is targeted to three main types of buyers: people who live here today and want to downsize, people in the labor force and single parents who all want to remain a part of the community.

Davis said they were told their original design didn’t fit in well so they redesigned it to be more Southwest eclectic.

He said the units were primarily single story but they offer as an option a second story for those who want a guest room or game room.

All have two-car garages.

Davis said they were promoting a lifestyle and housing product not currently available in Cave Creek while providing a “sustainable transition.”

He stated the project has less impact than other projects the SAP would allow.

He said Meritage estimates the units would be in the high $300,000.

Smith said Davis left one group out – people who don’t currently live here.

After it was noted there would be no on-street parking, Baxley asked how long the driveways were.

Troy Hill from Meritage said the driveways were a minimum of 18 feet.

Davis said there were some that were 22 feet long.

Baxley commented his pickup truck is 23 feet long.

Frye said the drawings show substantial amounts of brick, stone and metal and asked if Meritage was OK with them making that a condition for approval.

Davis said they were.

Frye asked how the project will benefit the town.

Davis said the residents would spend their money in town and generate additional tax revenue.

He said the majority of comments had to do with the density of the project.

Davis stated they had run an analysis on the site and that’s why it is 56 units instead of 55 – to make it financially viable.

Responding to questions by Commissioner Susan Demmit, Davis said most of the retention will be on the southern part of the property and there will only be walls along the east and south.

During public comment Eileen Wright stated the property was currently zoned DR-89 and the SAP didn’t change the zoning.

She said CB zoning would be detrimental to the health safety and welfare of the residents in the neighborhood who never thought that would be CB zoning.

Wright asked the planning commission to recommend denial and said once rezoned the applicant can do anything.

Cheryle Carmitchel said she attended the Meritage meeting, which she found interesting.

Carmitchel said she believes Meritage has their best interest in mind, would rather live next to 150 people than CB and stated, “I ask you to please listen to us.”

She noted the 14 acres was not originally included in the SAP and stated it was not a townhome project but duplexes and triplexes.

Carmitchel said it should be MR not CB and had concerns about conditional approval.

She said, “We should start off on the right foot and make this residential.”

Suzanne Deffenbaugh said she’s been here since 2006 and thought she was buying residential property and then Lowe’s was built.

She asked the commission to pause and think what the word commercial means – “business operating for profit.”

Deffenbaugh said CB allows for a number of businesses she hopes to not see at that location and pointed out the Meritage brochure for the project indicated the zoning was MR.

Kurt Mattson

Local sculptor Kurt Mattson said people come to Cave Creek to see the cowboy lifestyle and told the commission, “You are the guardians of this lifestyle. When you changed it from Western to eclectic, it can mean anything.”

He asked the commission to leave the zoning DR-89 or “something that goes with our lifestyle.”

Reg Monachino said the motion is to change DR-89 to CB, but stated this was not a CB project.

He also disagreed that it is a transition project.

“It’s a subdivision,” said Monachino, “It’s no different from Dove Valley or Terravita …”

According to Monachino, there is nothing in Arizona statute requiring them to grant a rezoning request.

Vice Chairman Bob Voris

Vice Chairman Bob Voris asked if Monachino wanted them to deny the request for CB and if he wanted to see any residential.

Monachino responded, “I don’t want to see any subdivision.”

Mike Durkin said he was opposed to the item before the commission.

Although he doesn’t live near the proposed project, Durkin stated he thinks of Cave Creek as a community and people being involved in others’ issues.

He said, “This is going to impact their lifestyle. I didn’t hear the commission ask any questions about the impact on residents.”

Durkin urged the commission to listen to the citizens who live next to the project and not recommend approval.

He said, “Once the zoning is approved, this can be anything.”

Voris noted the planning commission recommended eliminating this acreage from the SAP and said he found it ironic that Durkin and Monachino were both on the council that put it back in.

Kerry Smith said if the applicant can do the project without commercial zoning, there’s no reason for it.

He said homes that adjoin open space are worth 3-4 percent more than comparable homes that don’t and homes on large lots are worth 8-12 percent more than comparable homes on smaller lots.

Smith said, “We’re taking away value from the neighbors.”

Smith also claimed the town has not made adequate provisions for water despite it being the developer’s responsibility to obtain a 100-year assured water supply.

Linda Redwood-Martinez, who said she lives approximately three miles up Spur Cross Road and is unaffected by the project, spoke in opposition because it affects her neighbors.

Gabriel Boyd, who lives just north of the project, said, “It’s a little denser than I would like, but I’m OK with it.”

Boyd said he didn’t see why it needs commercial zoning and stated, “It definitely needs a traffic study.”

Larry Pace

Larry Pace said he was there when the planning commission took the 12 acres out of the SAP and council “snuck them back in.”

Pace said 56 homes is a subdivision and asked the commission to recommend denial.

He said, “This density is not us. This just doesn’t have the flavor of Cave Creek.”

Tim Spence, who lives adjacent to the project’s southwest corner, said, “If they want to put 56 houses on there, let them do it. They can do what they want. They own it.”

Steve Orgel, who lives just north of the project, said most of the comments he’s heard are the same as the reason he lives in Cave Creek, known as “ABC: artists, bikers and cowboys.”

He strongly urged the commission to recommend denial of the CB zoning and said, density is the key issue and contrary to what citizens expect.”

Referring to Cave Creek as a “desert rural, Western town,” Orgel said he could see 10 homes but not 56.

Mike Noonan said it wasn’t so much that he opposed the project but rather the town needed to control how it grows.

He said there were properties in town that were already zoned to accommodate this type of project and referenced Rancho Madera, which he called a nice project built in the town core where people could walk to everything.

Noonan said, “If I were the applicant, I would find property in town for this type of project … This doesn’t belong on the outside of town.”

Arthur Robertson stated the applicant said they didn’t need CB zoning to build their project and recommended the commission deny the request.

When asked if he was opposed to the residential development, Robertson said he wasn’t and just didn’t like the CB zoning.

Davis responded to the comments by saying Meritage is here as an end user, not to rezone and leave.

He said the parcels were not necessarily appropriate for DR zoning and they believed this is the most compatible project for the neighborhood.

Davis said the decision that the property is not going to remain DR-89 has already been made.

He said if MR designation is what the commission recommends to council they were certainly amenable to that.

Voris moved to recommend approval and said, “Fifteen people told us what they thought.”

Voris said he found the case particularly interesting because the project doesn’t fit into any of the town’s zoning categories and was somewhat of a hybrid development that doesn’t meet the criteria of zoning for medium or high-density residential, or CB, or requirements of the SAP, of which it is a part.

He found the density too much for the area and site size and highlighted parking issues.

Because they were not approving a site plan, Voris said nothing obligates or compels the developer to build the project in its conceptual plan.

And, if the commission were to recommend approval of what had been presented, and council were to act based on their recommendation, Voris said the property zoning could be changed to commercial buffer, which he said may not be in the best interest of the surrounding property owners or the town.

In the alternative, he suggested the developer could withdraw the request, have additional conversations with the planning staff in light of what was said that night and resubmit a proposal.

Cordwell was asked to explain how the case is subject to a referendum.

Cordwell said council would have two readings of an ordinance to change the zoning and then it would not go into effect for 30 days, during which any person could file a petition for a referendum that would then go to the citizens for a vote.

After listening to 15 people and walking the property, Bryda said he couldn’t support CB zoning.

Commissioner Susan Demmitt apologized to Meritage but said her concern was whether it’s MR or CB without any assurances it is what they would get at the end of the day, although they could attach conditions.

She said the project was a substantial departure from what there is in Cave Creek while noting it is a difficult transitional site.

Demmitt recommending continuing the case and have it come back with a set of conditions and a site plan application at the same time.

She said it was difficult to make a transition to the large lot properties to the east and north.

Frye said he liked the project both conceptually and architecturally.

However, he felt the zoning requested is the wrong one.

He suggested lessening the density along the borders to the east and north and increasing it somewhere else in the project.

Frye also said he’s like to see the financial impacts and benefits to the town and have staff put together stipulations.

Commissioner Bruce McNeal thanked Meritage and stated the project wasn’t “unhandsome” but he was not infavor of changing the zoning from DR-89 to CB.

He agreed with Noonan and said he would like to see residential development built from the inside out.

Baxley said maybe he was lost but didn’t recall them ever considering this type of development in Cave Creek.

Chairman Smith said from a financial aspect, the town would receive around $750,000 in one-time fees.

He said the SAP was developed for two reasons – Carefree Highway should be commercial but area residents wanted less intensity.

He said the SAP was one-lot deep on Carefree Highway but because of a potential lawsuit, these particular lots were reinstated in the SAP.

Even if they recommended denial, Smith said it still goes to council, which can approve it.

He suggested continuing if the applicant were willing.

Davis said his client was not willing to continue because they were under contractual obligations and needed a yes or no vote.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend denial.