My View

By Don Sorchych | November 26, 2008

Don SorchychEven a stopped clock is right twice a day

The recent council meeting involving four possible general plan amendments to pave the way to upzoning was long, tempestuous and redundant. The most controversial was T.C. Thorstenson’s attempt to upzone the 5.6 acre parcel immediately north of Hammerhead Jack’s.

Twice before, attempts were made to change the zoning from Desert Rural Residential to Commercial Core, and both failed. Thorstenson is a promoter, and promote he did, dragging maybe 100 people to town hall to attest to the desirability of his plan for a Western cultural center.

All of the proposed general plan amendments had one important thing in common.

Converting residential zoning to commercial yields a ten fold increase in value, even in today’s down market.

And, I believe, although the property owners would deny it, they would sell the property as soon as the zoning changes became effective.

upzoning cartoonThe other thing that must be considered is as long as the fairly broad requirements of commercial zoning are met, the town cannot turn the uses down.

Thorstenson’s brain-washed backers, at the meeting and since, are making outright threats to vote out those who had the courage to vote against Thorstenson’s proposal.

They are full of praise for Council members Kim Brennan and Ernie Bunch, who were the only votes in favor.

Let’s examine their motives.

Both said the community should get to vote on the matter, and if it passed there would be a referendum. That is a given.

However, way back in grade school civics you should have learned we have a representative form of government. Brennan and Bunch were elected to make the tough decisions, not to pass the obligation off to citizens. That is either an act of cowardice or, counting the large crowd at the meeting on Thorstenson’s behalf, pimping for their votes.

After all, Dec. 10 marks the day candidates for council must declare their bona fides to run in the March 2009 primary. Currently, there are 14 candidates and incumbents who have pulled packets and 13 have filed financial disclosures, which allow them to gather signatures.

There is more. I chided Bunch and asked him whether he meant citizens should vote, rather than leave it up to the mayor and council, or did he think the property should be zoned commercial.

He said, after a long pause, “Because it should be commercial.”


Then he wasn’t listening to what went on in the room. There is a major issue of access across Hammerhead Jack’s property. With that not available, Vermeersch Road is the only access and it is not wide enough to accommodate commercial traffic.

So, upzoning aside, the property and Thorstenson’s plan for its use is fatally flawed and was appropriately defeated by four council members and the mayor.

In a later discussion with Town Manager Usama Abujbarah, Thorstenson was offered an option of repeating the process, but with a binding development agreement. That would ensure Thorstenson wouldn’t “flip” the property and do what he claimed he was going to do.
But referendums would be available at every step of the process, and it would surely be referred.

Thorstenson, who has approximately 9.4 acres of mixed commercial and residential property west of Foothills Granite, repeatedly has said he has other plans for those parcels.
Another consideration is for Thorstenson to buy Hammerhead Jack’s, which is on the market for $4.5 million. That purchase would solve his access problem. But he still faces certain referendum.

Some say the four council members and mayor bent over for the “dark side.” Not true. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And the dark side was right on these applications, and they weren’t alone.

The other three applications suffered similar issues. There was no guarantee the properties wouldn’t be flipped and the consequences could be dire.

David Lewis seems to shop for residential properties hoping to hit the jackpot with upzoning. He tried to upzone the property now owned by Thorstenson, north of Hammerheads Jack’s, and failed. In both cases he represented he would build clinics, like the one he owned on Jacqueline Drive. In that instance, the doctor in charge did exemplary treatments, but one first had to drop $10 thousand.

Then Lewis brought in Michael Goldwater as a partner as if the famous name would ensure passage. He said they would treat brain injuries for servicemen wounded in war. Trying to ride on the backs of our war wounded is vulgar, despicable and beyond the pale.

Brennan and Bunch not only voted for it, but both voted for Brennan’s motion to upzone a small parcel to Commercial Buffer. You have to wonder whether Brennan made the motion and voted for it hoping to get the listing, since she is a realtor.

The museum’s application may have failed since it has long wanted to move, and, if it got commercial zoning, may well have sold it. The town and the museum are looking at alternative means to allow expansion.

The general plan amendment for the 25 acres south of Carefree Highway, west of 52nd Street, failed 1-6, with Bunch voting in favor. Apparently Bunch enjoyed his foray into minority voting and made it 4-0 for upzoning.

Although it would have been interesting to see how referendums would come out, it doesn’t change the fact that members of the council are our representatives and were voted in to vote, not pass it to the voters.

Down the road a few years Wal-Mart will come up for a general plan amendment, a zoning vote and council action on their site plan.

It will be interesting to see how council votes and subsequent referendums, if they vote yes, will come out. Did Home Depot teach us a valuable lesson, or not?