Town of Cave Creek Clarifies Proposed Dedication of Morningstar Trail Easements

Over the past three Town Council meetings, residents have raised concerns about the proposed dedication of a non-motorized public trail easement to add to Cave Creek’s trail system. The Council considered the possible acceptance of the trail easement known as Morningstar Trail, at its meeting on February 5, 2024. Due to concerns and questions raised about the trail easement, the Council deferred action on accepting the easement that night.

Considering the concerns raised by residents on both sides of the issue, Town Manager Grady Miller announced at the Council meeting on March 4, that he would distribute an announcement on clarifying facts about the proposed Morningstar trail easement.  

“My hope is to set the record straight so that our residents are fully informed about the proposed dedication of the Morningstar Trail easements,” stated Miller. “The Town Attorney’s Office provided staff with the facts surrounding the previous court cases which are provided below,” continued Miller.

Below includes the points or concerns raised by the public at the Council meetings along with corresponding facts.

Statement: “This is a motorized easement.”

Fact: The easement is expressly and exclusively non-motorized: “Morningstar does hereby grant and convey to the Town, its successors and permitted assigns, a perpetual public easement for the express purpose of public, non-motorized access for public benefit in, upon, over, and in all events within the Easement Area, subject to the following terms and conditions to which the parties hereto do hereby agree . . .” The fact that it is non-motorized is stated in the Whereas clauses, in the conveyance paragraph, and then reiterated 4 more times in the “conditions” of the easement.  

Statement: Gerald Freeman was “victorious” in a 2014 lawsuit.  

Fact: In 2012, Mr. Freeman filed a complaint against the Town arising out of the Town’s proposed Morningstar Trail. After a bench trial in 2014, the trial court stated that it could not conclude that either Mr. Freeman or the Town were the successful parties in the litigation. Mr. Freeman appealed the trial’s court’s judgment, which was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeals. The Arizona Supreme Court denied Mr. Freeman’s Petition for Review. Because the Town was the successful party on appeal, Mr. Freeman was ordered to pay the Town’s attorneys’ fees on appeal. Under the ruling of that case, the Town is free to proceed with the construction of the trail as planned provided that it remains in compliance with the Court’s order July 28, 2015 Judgment, which was incorporated into the terms of the gift easement. 

Statement: The Town paid Mark Stapp’s legal fees.   

Fact: The Town is not aware of any agreement for the payment of legal fees incurred by Cahava Springs/Morningstar Properties by the Town in connection with the 2012 lawsuit, nor was the Town ordered to pay any such fees. Cahava Springs/Morningstar Properties was represented by its own legal counsel in the proceedings.  

Statement: The non-motorized trail will open the West of Cave Creek to the East.  

Fact: The easement is exclusively non-motorized.  Legally, this easement cannot now or in the future be used for vehicular travel. The “Trojan Horse” argument was advanced by Mr. Freeman in the 2012 litigation and was not accepted by the Court. 

Statement: Mark Stapp received “something” in exchange for the “land” in the gift deed.

Fact: First, the deed is for an easement, which is a right to access the property, and does not transfer ownership of the underlying property. The Town is not receiving “land” under this easement, only the right of the public to utilize the designated portion, constructed in accordance with the requirements set forth by the Court, for non-motorized purposes. Second, the dedication of the trail was not required in exchange for anything from the Town. Mr. Stapp agreed years ago to dedicate the non-motorized trail easement after a request from the Trails Coordinator because it is depicted in the General Plan and connects legally established trails.

Statement: Acceptance of the easement will allow or open the door for the development of over 1,200 new homes.

Fact: This trail is unrelated to the development of the underlying land and its use is limited to exclusively, non-motorized uses. The only time the property owner is required by ordinance to dedicate a trail is when they are developing a subdivision, or a commercial property. The land across which the trail crosses was recently split into 3 parcels, which makes the timing of the donation critical because if it is not accepted at this point, a subsequent owner may not be so kind as to donate this important easement, which interconnects the Town’s trail network as depicted in the voter-approved General Plan.

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