Further Clarity on Carefree Preserve and State Trust Land

Recently, there have been a few responding editorials to the facts shared about the Carefree Preserve in the north side of Carefree and the 40-acre State Land parcel near the SkyRanch Airport in Carefree. To further clarify:

• The Carefree preserve being assembled on the north side of our community is a long-term collaboration with the Desert Foothills Land Trust. I support this worthy vision to create a Spur Cross like preservation area. This vision may take years to complete. It is a work in process. The Town staff has and will continue to work with the Land Trust and respective private property owners to assemble land. Because of the fractured ownership of this land, assembling these many pieces takes considerable time. Within the past two years the Land Trust secured an additional 100 acres on top of the 50 acres the Town and Land Trust had already secured. After these respective properties are acquired, a master plan to provide access as well as restrict access to the more sensitive areas would be developed. This access would include a trail system with varying degrees of capabilities. We are not yet at that stage in the process.

• I would welcome a public park south of the airport. It would be an asset that many in our community would enjoy. But the key is to arrive there in a financially responsible manner. The State Trust land near SkyRanch Airport has a price tag of about $7 million, equivalent to the Town’s annual operating budget. The General Plan suggests a means of acquiring a portion of this land. The General Plan Open Space element clearly references using the residential subdivision process to receive open space at no cost to the Town. This property is not zoned for multiple-family residential. There is no desire to make such a change. Simply, the existing low-density, single-family lots can be placed on one side of the parcel and the remaining land can be dedicated for use as a park negating the need to fund a $7 million acquisition.

• How do neighboring towns fund public parks? As examples, Cave Creek and Scottsdale have significantly larger capital and operational budgets than Carefree that have been supported with property taxes and supplemented with sales taxes and economic development projects to acquire and manage their park systems. Acquisition of the State Trust Land could be at least $7 million and there is no guarantee of the Town being the successful bidder. This figure does not include any level of improvements for a trail system, parking area, restrooms, ADA requirements, security lighting or other active recreational facilities the community may desire. The total price could be more than $10 million. Municipalities fund public park investments through tax revenues. While we do not have the revenue streams to fund such a large acquisition, we have tools in place to set the stage to acquire at least a portion of the 40 acres for little cost. Improvements can then be tackled incrementally as community desires and future revenue sources are defined. This is a financially responsible and achievable approach.

I support the continued efforts to make the vision of the Carefree Preserve a reality and to bring a public park to Carefree. But a balance must be struck between revenue to fund Town operations and reinvestments in our infrastructure. Taking money from, say, the Town’s street reserve fund to pay for a park and preserve would significantly reduce street maintenance. This would lead to an expediential decline in the state of our aging streets and a dramatic increase in future repair costs without funds to repair streets. This would not be a sound fiscal decision. Either new reoccurring funding must be identified to ensure a solvent and sustainable plan to fund new improvements like a park and preserve without creating additional financial liability for the community or a less financially demanding solution is needed.

My suggestion, as outlined in Carefree’s General Plan, is to work with the successful bidder at the 40 acre State Trust Land parcel for a low-density residential community to receive a park site through the subdivision platting process for the community’s use and benefit. There would be no or little cost to the community and the need to fund the acquisition costs of approximately $7 million would be eliminated. The tools are in place to make this happen.

John Crane
Town of Carefree Mayor Elect
Desert Foothills Land Trust Board Member