Conflict grows between developers and residents

By Maja Peirce

Developer Stewart Jean has requested the Cave Creek town council to allow for modification to an existing Specific Area Plan (SAP) for more flexibility and enhanced access to the site. Having recently developed the plaza where Sprouts is located on Carefree Highway, this proposal sparked controversy during the meeting as residents and developers debate whether the future of Cave Creek includes larger commercial businesses.

An array of topics were discussed at the Cave Creek Town Council Meeting on Monday, September 21 such as approving a special permit for Cave Creek Bike Week during April 2, 2021 through April 11, 2021 and the council’s consideration and possible approval of providing mutual and fire services during emergency brush fires. However, the Cave Creek Town Council spent the majority of the meeting discussing Jean’s proposal and hearing public comment regarding the issue.

The last few years has seen a great deal of new retail stores being built on Carefree Highway.

“When the recession hit, all that Cave Creek had for sales tax revenue was the town core and there was nothing down on Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road adding to sales tax. When that happened, the guy who was the town manager at the time had to come in and lay off 25 percent of the people who worked for the town. Right now, as bad as COVID has been, most of the town core businesses like restaurants, bars, and such were closed for months and our sales tax collections were actually right above the projections for the budget. The last several years, we’ve opened places like Tractor Supply, AutoZone, Starbucks, Walmart, and Sprouts. We’ve got all this stuff now that is bringing in revenue for the town. That is the reason we don’t have property tax,” said Cave Creek Mayor Ernie Bunch.

Jean’s land has a SAP which includes certain restrictions the community placed on it such as what kind of businesses go there. Residents were concerned about fast food restaurants and their smell being placed close to their homes which is one of the reasons the SAP was created. Since Jean cannot reveal to the public what businesses he has in the works for the development, many residents worry the businesses will decreases the town’s rural feel.

“As representatives of the people of Cave Creek, you are charged with taking into account the negative impact of any changes in the SAP to adjacent property. Please honor the commitment made between the town and residents when the SAP was developed and do not ignore the wishes of town residents to maintain the character of Cave Creek that drew us to the area- open space, dark skies, a rural feel. Taking citizens interest to heart, community, transparency, low traffic, etc. This SAP was specifically designed for low density, low traffic businesses to preserve the adjacent residential neighborhoods. The land was purchased with for-knowledge of the restrictions put on it by the SAP. There are critical issues with this plan regarding traffic, safety, lighting, noise, and other pollution,” said a concerned resident who called in for public comment.

One of the public’s largest concerns became the amount of traffic and dangerous driving incidents the developers plan could potentially cause. Jean expressed at the meeting that he was concerned with the current entrance and exits traffic situation for the safety of his workers and local residents. The reason he suggested adding other ingress and egress points was to prevent traffic incidents from occurring on 48th St.

A study on the area’s ingress and egress was done by Y2K Engineering using data from when the Sprout’s development was built. This study was done because the site was projected to create 114 peak hour trips. If it is estimated that a sit will create over 100 peak hour trips, the town needs a traffic impact study to be done according to Chris Williams. He has 20 years of experience and has worked for the town in the past doing traffic studies. Williams stated that one drive-thru Starbucks or McDonalds would generate more peak hour trips than this development. This study is available in the town council’s September 21 meeting agenda labeled as “AGP-19-02 Traffic Impact Study.”

While the council originally voted 5-2 in disapproval of the developers plans, new information was brought to light after the vote took place. Following the vote, town councilman Thomas McGuire found a sheet of paper that had been overlooked which outlined a plan for the development. But this time, with a singular entrance to the parking lot like the public had been pressing for. The council decided to table the vote for the next meeting to give the public a chance to hear about the singular entrance plan. This could potentially settle some qualms regarding traffic and safety.

“We will bring it back up at the next council meeting. I’m sure the community will show up and I hope they’re delighted with this new proposal. He’s putting billions into making that whole area look better. He has a couple of clients that are committed but they want to know within the next two-three weeks otherwise they will go find somewhere else,” said Susan Clancy, town council woman.

The conversation surrounding the new development on Carefree Highway will resume during the next town council meeting hosted October 5, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. at the Town Council Chambers at Town Hall located at 37622 N. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek, Arizona 85331.