Meritage Homes wins nod over Commissioner Monachino’s nay

Reg Monachino
Reg Monachino

CAVE CREEK – With commissioners Bruce McNeil and Susan Demmitt absent, the planning commission conducted its final meeting of the year on Dec. 15 to review a rezoning request for the Reserve at Black Mountain by Meritage Homes.

Because former Chairman David Smith was elected to council, which became effective Dec. 1, Vice Chairman Bob Voris chaired the meeting.

The commissioners are appointed to terms based on calendar years, so they will select a new chairman and vice chairman during their next meeting on Jan. 19, when they will review a special use permit application for a bed and breakfast.

Voris welcomed Commissioner Reg Monachino back to the commission.

Monachino, a former planning commissioner and council member, was ousted from council during the March 10, 2015 recall election and ran a failed campaign to win back his seat during the Aug. 30, 2016 election.

He did, however, regain an appointment to the planning commission for the balance of Smith’s term, which ends in December 2017.

The newly revised rezoning application submitted by Meritage, which was being represented by Attorney Brennan Ray of Burch & Cracchiolo, P.A., was a request to change Desert Rural (DR-89) to Multi-family Residential (MR) for two parcels consisting of approximately 12.2 acres just north of the northwest corner of 54th Street and Carefree Highway.

After an unsuccessful attempt to rezone the same parcels to Commercial Buffer (CB) with a conceptual plan showing 56 units utilizing a combination of duplexes and triplexes, some with two stories, Meritage listened to the objections of neighbors, held new neighborhood meetings and came back with an application showing a conceptual plan for 31 single-story, single family homes.

Voris briefly explained the case with a more in-depth report provided by Planning Director Ian Cordwell.

The parcels are in a designated Specific Area Plan (SAP), which allows a MR zoning classification to be considered.

Monachino asked why the applicant was not required to wait a year as required for major amendments to the general plan.

Cordwell stated the request was for a rezoning, whereas major amendments refer to the general plan.

He noted the SAP refers to the general plan, which was changed to allow for MR zoning, whereas the previous application for a change to CB zoning required a general plan amendment.

Responding to questions from commissioners Ted Bryda and Dick Frye, Cordwell said private streets are permitted within the project and the they would meet the requirements for emergency vehicles.

Ray provided the commission with a presentation on the project and said Meritage worked hard to come up with a project that was compatible with the general plan and SAP.

He said they listened to the neighbors’ feedback in the previous case as well as the current application and stated they appreciated the civility shown by all involved.

Although it was a rezoning application, most of the discussion focused on the conceptual site plan.

If approved, the site plan would also have to come back through the process for review.

Ray proposed certain stipulations for approval.

Bryda said he had a problem with the word “substantial” and asked Ray to clarify.

Ray stated it meant approximately 90 percent conformance with the site plan presented.

He said the term is not unique and, in Phoenix, for example, it is common to have one of two stipulations, general conformance and substantial conformance. Ray stated it was determined by the site plan and the number of lots.

Bryda asked who determines the conformance. Ray said it would be the planning department.

Monachino asked if the disclosure statement would be signed by the homeowner and asked what happed to the document afterward.

Ray said it would be signed and placed in the homeowner’s file.

Cordwell stated it would be recorded against each lot.

Commissioner Peter Omundson suggested it be part of the CC&Rs.

Ray addressed questions from the commission regarding street parking, turnaround space, washes and “will serve” letters from the town regarding utilities.

During public comment, Trey Ordonez, who is not a resident but owns a title and escrow company in town, after assuring the commission he has no involvement with Meritage Homes, spoke in favor of the project, filling a need in both Cave Creek and Carefree.

Jo Long said she felt the project would be a financial benefit to the town, bringing new residents who would shop and dine in Cave Creek.

Expressing her support for the rezoning, Long said Meritage is a respected builder and worked hard to reduce the number of homes to keep the project small out of respect for the community.

Stevn Orgel, who lives close to the project and has spoken before about his objections.

Steve Orgel
Steve Orgel

He said his concerns haven’t changed, claims the community has been misled by Meritage’s slick packaging and it was just greed with no true interest for the town.

Orgel didn’t like the density or precedent it would set and said he doesn’t like HOAs. He said they were not in the best interest of those who moved west for freedom and independence.

He said the project was better suited for Phoenix or Scottsdale as the character of the west as envisioned and maintained in Cave Creek would be lost.

Frye asked how he felt misled.

Orgel said meetings glossed over what was at stake, which was eking out a large profit from small acreage.

He said it comes down to the builder and the land owners selling to Meritage trying to get the most units in the area as allowed, stating, “It’s not fair for us who came here for more space.”

Cheryle Carmitchel stated the parcels should have never been included in the SAP and questioned if the rezoning went through did it run with the land.

Voris said it would run with the land.

Carmitchel said while she was a strong opponent of the previous application for CB zoning, now that the number of homes had been reduced and the homes would be limited to one story, she could support the project.

Eric Watson, who is not a resident but a business owner in Stagecoach Village, said new residents will bring money to the Cave Creek economy.

Watson said he has talked to many individuals who support the plan and stated he didn’t think 31 homes was very many units and would provide a buffer to Lowe’s huge parking lot.

Todd Gilson said Meritage has gone to extraordinary lengths to address concerns, including reducing the density by 40 percent.

He cautioned anyone opposed to the project to “be careful what you wish for.”

Gabe Boyd said he can see the project from his front yard and was 100 percent in favor.

Although it is a little higher density than he would like, Boyd said the damage was done with the passage of the SAP and this was the best option.

Lawrence Pace said he’s been involved since the SAP and figured it was better to “deal with the devil we know than deal with the devil we don’t know.”

Although the density was still higher than he would like and would like to see Meritage knock off a few more units, Pace said he was in favor.

Noting the SAP could potentially bring three-story apartments, Steve Knotts said he believed this was the best project for the parcels.

Two other citizens filled out slips in favor of the project but declined to speak since all their points had been made by other speakers.

Voris reminded the commission they were there to either recommend approval or disapproval of a rezoning request.

Monachino, addressing his fellow commissioners, said the request was to change the zoning from DR-89 to MR, stating, “A zoning change is forever. We are not going back. Once granted, there is no down zoning.”

He said there must be a compelling reason to grant the request and a real benefit to the town must be realized.

Monachino asked, “Why do this?”

Frye said he was a proponent of orderly development and property rights.

He said he believed the proposed project was orderly development with good planning and didn’t believe two-acre lots makes sense next to Lowe’s.

Monachino said he still didn’t hear any benefit to the town and that a benefit would be something that brings revenue.

He said he was still struggling with what the benefit would be to convert 12 acres to a subdivision and didn’t believe 30 homes was low density.

Omundson said the property owner has rights and it’s not the town’s job to limit growth but instead to look at the property, the SAP, and compare it to alternatives in the future.

He said the gain received now is a more conservative position and they should accept gains, large or small, rather than sit back and do nothing.

Monachino asked what would happen if the property remained DR-89, claiming rezoning is not a property right; it’s a right to maintain the existing DR-89 zoning.

Voris stated the property owner has the right to ask.

Omundson said he’s known Monachino for a very long time, Monachino uses that argument every time and he’s tired of hearing “no.”

Omundson said they want diversity and a variety of things and stated, “We can’t say no to everything.”

Frye pointed out diversity is actually referenced in the general plan and asked, “Where might you want to put this density that is an offering to the public that they may want?”

Frye said this was a responsible developer providing what people may need that fits in the general plan and he likes the idea.

Monachino argued CB zoning under the SAP and general plan would allow for offices, services and retail sales, all of which would bring revenue to the town.

Frye said CB includes planned residential as well.

Monachino argued the proposal before them was a one-shot deal with development fees while CB would bring revenue forever.

Frye asked how offices would be a revenue benefit to the town.

Monachino insisted businesses would generate revenue forever.

Frye said residents generate revenue as well.

Bryda said the project should not only be a benefit to the town but to area residents as well.

He said the compromise Meritage brought forth is something not seen before between homeowners and developers, whereas the area homeowners weren’t against it.

Voris pointed out the general plan adopted in 2005 discusses, as Frye noted, a mix of housing units and said he believes this project serves that purpose.

Voris believed the project was a good fit for the SAP and while nine people spoke, all but one supported the project.

He said the project benefits residents and has potential for income to the town, while benefiting the town with additional residential sewer hookups.

Voris said it begins with a single step and it is a benefit to accept development in the area with a good buffer from heavy commercial between DR-89 and the proposed rezoning.

Voris said Monachino hadn’t explained what he thinks would be a benefit to the town.

Monachino said Meritage’s presentation was first class but it remained a housing subdivision with its financial contribution only being a “one-shot deal.”

He said it prevents future revenues by eliminating those 12 acres from becoming commercial.

The commission voted 4-1 to recommend approval with Monachino dissenting.