Preserve at odds with high density housing

The Sonoran Desert Preserve is home to Apache Wash Trailhead, an area used frequently by the surrounding community to get fresh air while biking, hiking, and jogging.

In November 2018, Taylor Morrison Home Builders and Real Estate requested to have the MacEwan 480 area rezoned from a S-1 low density rural zoning area of one dwelling per acre, to a higher density zoning of three to five dwellings per acre.

This change allows for Taylor Morrison to build 1,470 homes opposed to the 473 that is available with the current Desert Character Overlay. The privately owned land is located on the south side of Sonoran Desert Drive and sits half a mile from the Apache Wash Trailhead.

“The zoning of this area was done with thoughtful consideration. Really what this comes down to is the developer is asking for an exception to our zoning codes and the overwhelming response I’ve got from the community is that they don’t consent,” said Daniel Centilli, an avid marathon runner, and triathlete who regularly cycles the preserve.

Centilli is a member of the Save Our Sonoran Preserve group, a congregation of dedicated community members hoping to keep the area to a low density zoning.

“The Desert Character Overlay, was a zoning ordinance written specifically for this situation. They knew back in 1988 that people were going to want to build homes next to the Preserve. They didn’t want high density housing right next to it so they planned it out so there was a slow transition. This makes it so that from the hiking trail you don’t see 1,400 homes next to the trail,” said Gary Kirkilas, the founder of Save Our Sonoran Preserve.

Along with maintaining a natural environment, the community is concerned about traffic which would increase with the building of a new development. This has locals uneasy about biker and runner safety, many of whom frequently trek this stretch of road. Additionally, the traffic on Sonoran Desert Drive is clogged during rush hour, this has potential to worsen with the influx of residents living in the area. Sonoran Desert Drive is currently a one lane road with the occasional passing lane and the City of Phoenix doesn’t plan to make changes for another ten years.

“Taylor Morrison is saying that with 1,470 homes they’re only expecting approximately 1,100 automotive trips in the morning and 1,300 automotive trips in the evening, to and from that property. Now the first thing I would point out about that, is with 1,470 homes, most of those homes are going to have a two car garage if not three. With the assumption that these homes will be selling in the $500,000 range, most of these homes will have two or more vehicles. These numbers suggest that only 70% of one member in those households will be using a vehicle. I would contend that these numbers are unrealistic because I think most families that are going to be purchasing a $500,000 home are probably going to be duel income, or at least, one person is going to be high earning and the other will be taking children to and from school,” said Centilli.

Additionally, flooding presumes to be an issue. There are four dams in the area, one of which is the hundred-year-old dam built by FEMA. This dam is no longer in use due to its age, so the water has been diverted such that it reaches the southern edge of where the development is to stand.

The erosion shown on the bridges nearby indicate that the water moves quickly in the washes on either side of MacEwan 480. The community expects a hundred-year-flood within the next sixty years during which, the bridges will possibly collapse rendering the residents of this development with no way of receiving emergency help, or leaving their homes.

“Those homes will have flood insurance, which will be disclosed to them. The problem is that the last FEMA study out there was very old. In the developers plans, he referenced the flood plains but the reports were from 1993 and 1997. They’re using over twenty year old FEMA reports,” said Mandy Fellows, a researcher and member of the Save Our Sonoran Preserve. Fellows advocates for the developer to order another FEMA study on the area before building to judge where the water flow could impact the new community.

Because of the water flow in this area, the surrounding desert is full of wildlife. Several archeological and ecological studies of have been done in the nearby washes and continue to go on today.

Taylor Morrison declined to respond to multiple requests for a comment. However, The City of Phoenix, Parks and Recreation Division, has a positive outlook on the new development.

“We have 41 trailheads citywide, and it’s one of the more popular trailheads in our system. I’m sure having some additional development in that area will make it another amenity that’s available for people who live in that area. I certainly think it is a trailhead that can accommodate the amount of traffic,” said Gregg Bach, a public informations officer with Phoenix Parks and Recreation.

The proposed installation of 1,470 homes has the current community rallying against the idea of changing the laws to accommodate higher density housing. The preservation of the Sonoran Desert Preserve, home to wildlife and fresh air, is something the surrounding community wishes to see prevail.