BY LINDA BENTLEY | DECEMBER 5, 2012
Francia stated, ‘I’m not cuddled by the desert. I’m in an area that is surrounded by commercial’
CAVE CREEK – Council voted unanimously to reappoint John Ford and Ted Bryda to another three-year term on the planning commission but not before first failing to appoint Sharon McCarthy to the commission by a vote of 3-4 with Mayor Vincent Francia, Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch and Councilman Dick Esser voting in favor.
Attorney Paul Gilbert (l), representing Stewart Jean (r) and Park West Partner’s applications for a general plan amendment and rezoning of four acres to the west of CVS on Carefree Highway was before council with a negative 3-4 recommendation from the planning commission.
Planning Director Ian Cordwell said the application meets the requirements of the town’s ordinances.
According to Cordwell, the case was continued so the applicant could take the time to work with neighboring residents. However, he said Park West was unable to come to an agreement with the property owners in Estado de Cholla.
Cordwell confirmed Jean is not the property owner but has an option on the parcels and attached letters to the application from the property owners granting him permission to represent them.
Gilbert said the history on the property was very important for the town to consider.
“This is the fifth year we’ve been working on this application,” said Gilbert, noting they started in 2007 with a request for the same four acres that was before council.
He said the concern then was that it should be for a larger area and there was opposition to “piecemeal rezoning,” so they withdrew their application.
In 2008 they came back with a plan that encompassed 13 properties totaling 36 acres. There was concern the area was too large and again they withdrew their application.
Gilbert said the town then initiated three general plan amendments, one of which was Area 25, consisting of 25 parcels totaling 50 acres between 48th and 54th streets and included the applicant’s four acres.
The planning commission deemed the area too large.
“We’ve had four attempts at rezoning,” said Gilbert as he provided an analogy to “Goldilocks,” too hot – too cold, too big – too small.
He said they’ve come full circle as he noted “major circumstances” that have taken place since they started, including the rezoning for Walmart, the Bullington property at the southeast corner, the properties adjacent to the Chevron Station and the Carefree General Plan considering commercial use for the northeast corner.
Gilbert said, “We believe the request is justified. The applicant has tried his best.”
Since they will still need to come back to the planning commission and council for site plan approval, Gilbert said there will still be plenty of opportunities for public involvement.
During public comment, Steven Croston said he was vehemently against the application and stated it would create a hodgepodge of commercial development.
Paul Eelkema stated, “We have an opportunity to see democracy at work” and said the current general plan was working.
Adam Trenk, who announced during call to the public he was running for council, said there was no pressing need at this time for more commercial and stated this could be discussed when the general plan is updated in 2015 when the entire area could be studied.
McCarthy, the only member of the public who spoke in favor of the general plan amendment to amend the land use from Desert Rural to General Commercial, said the town core cannot support the town’s needs and Walmart only prevented the town from going further into debt.
With the additional revenue she said the town could have a fire department and pay for other town services.
Ron Iverson opposed the general plan amendment and said the applicant did not meet the criteria.
He said the applicant claims the plan would “decrease traffic in the town core,” and asked, “How is that good for business?”
Eileen Wright, who is running for council, said the town has held fast to its general plan for 20 years. She held up a picture of a desert sunset and said every time the town rezones residential to commercial they devastate the desert.
She claimed Jean applied under false pretences that he was the landowner and said, on that basis alone, his application should be denied.
Also running for council, David Smith stated the planning commission and council have consistently voted against the rezoning and it would only be one of several similar requests. He concluded by saying, “Goodbye Carefree Highway. Hello Bell Road North.”
Mike Durkin, another council candidate, said the defeat of the fire contract indicated citizens feel there exists an adequate level of services.
He wondered if the town was motivated to increase revenues and then be looking for a way to spend it.
Durkin said, “This is what we tried to avoid when we incorporated 26 years ago.”
Richard Johnson said the insolvency faced by the town four years ago was no longer a threat and asked that the application be rejected.
Linda Thompson, who has owned the Dairy Queen restaurant for the past 28 years, questioned the applicant’s statement about reducing traffic to the town core and said, “We need to capture traffic and send it into the town core.”
Johnny Ringo was torn between people being able to do what they want with their own property and the applicant’s request, which includes a McDonald’s restaurant in its conceptual plan.
He said, “We could probably have something better.” Ringo then held up a poster showing McDonald’s with golden horseshoes instead of the trademark golden arches and an arrow pointing to Cave Creek.
Wes Cooper said the tax revenue generated by the average McDonald’s is less than $78,000 per year and asked if that was worth destroying the homes of people who built on parcels adjoining Area 25 based on the current general plan.
Russ Carlson said he agreed with most of what had already been said and pointed out the people present were not just from Estado de Cholla but from the entire town.
Bunch moved to approve the application and said, “I wholeheartedly support the rezoning,” and said he has consistently believed the appropriate zoning for the property is commercial.
Councilwoman Shelley Anderson seconded the motion but disagreed, stating, “I don’t think overturning zoning is the way to go. I don’t feel this is the right decision to make at this time.”
Councilman Thomas McGuire said council represents the community as a whole and while the community may be changing, he did not support the application.
Councilman Jim Bruce also said he couldn’t support the application, noting nothing has happened with the rezoned parcels council previously approved on the south side of Carefree Highway.
Expressing some concern because four candidates spoke, Esser said his wife asked him, “Would anyone build a house on those properties?” He said his answer was no and while he believed the application was going to be defeated, Esser said he supported it.
LaMar said he was still on the fence but stated the best use for the two parcels was not residential.
Francia said when an attorney proposed Enchanted Canyon two years ago he asked her if she’d been to the property and if she’d ever “turned around.”
Francia said he did and “felt cuddled by the desert,” and told the attorney he could never support the project.
After doing the same thing on the applicant’s property Francia stated, “I’m not cuddled by the desert. I’m in an area that is surrounded by commercial.”
He said he supported the application because it makes sense, contributes to economic diversity and provides employment.
The motion passed by a vote of 4-3 with Anderson, Bruce and McGuire dissenting.
The request for rezoning that followed passed by a vote of 5-2 with Anderson and McGuire dissenting.
Francia asked Cordwell to contact the citizens he worked with before on Park West so they can be continue to be involved.
Pointing out all the horrible stories about what would happen if Walmart came to town had never come to pass, Francia also reminded citizens 50 percent of the land in Cave Creek is open space.