The future belongs to the bold

By Linda Bentley | December 17, 2008

A happy confluence of events
CAVE CREEK – Mayor Vincent Francia announced during Monday’s meeting it was the last council meeting of 2008 and said the evening’s agenda was dedicated to the annexation and over 4,000 acres to be preserved as open space.

Jerry Zaddack, of Zaddack Valuation Advisors, an appraisal firm authorized by the state land department, was there to explain the methodology used to arrive at the appraised value of that open space.

R.J. Cardin, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Director was on hand to explain how the county could help the community develop an open space master plan.

Planning Director Ian Cordwell provided an overview of how the process started seven years ago.

During questions from the public, David Phelps asked if the town’s density transfers and rezoning weren’t originally proposed to be in exchange for “free land” as open space.

Francia explained that was what was initially proposed and agreed to. However, the attorney general subsequently said the state land department had no mechanism to dispose of land other than by auction.

Herb Natker asked if the town had a business and marketing plan to sell the land to developers.

Cordwell said the town is not responsible for marketing land for the state land department.
Town Attorney Gary Birnbaum, to clarify, said the town is interested in open space and it will not be selling land to developers.

Charles Spitzer asked what would happen to the land if the town can’t purchase it.

Cordwell responded the town has 20 years to purchase the land. However, he said, the zoning would remain as open space.

He asked what would happen if someone were to outbid the town.

If someone were to outbid the town, the land would still be zoned as open space.
Bill Allen asked, “How will the state be compensated for open space in rent due?”
“There is no rent,” replied Birnbaum.

Allen insisted there was a state law requiring rent.

Birnbaum reiterated there was no rent and there is no such state law.

The second topic pertaining to the annexation introduced by the mayor was water.

Attorney Marvin Cohen, who handled the town’s condemnation of the water company and other water issues for the town, began by explaining the town does not have a designation of an assured water supply and said it may be 1,000 acre-feet short.

Because the town is not designated as having an assured 100-year water supply, Cohen said the development agreement with the state land department specifically requires, if the town does not have sufficient water for a subdivision, the developer must supply the town with a 100-year assured water supply.

The third aspect of the annexation involved the appraisal, which Zaddack said he would limit to the open space portion and how the rezoning affected open space.

For example, he said, by changing zoning designations such as one unit per acre for 240 acres to commercial, it increases the price to the state land department by 200 to 300 percent.

Zaddack said open space also increases the value of adjacent land, citing the closer you get to open space, land will have premiums of 25 to 45 percent.

He affirmed that the land must be sold at auction and said the appraised value as of October 2008 for the 4,038 acres, zoned as open space, was $1,550,000, which he said comes to about $400 per acre.

He commended the town and the state land department for their innovative approach and said it was a “win-win” for the state and town.

“I’m passionate about parks and open space,” said Cardin, who said there were a lot of things he could help the town do.

Parks and Recreation is currently working on a master plan for all of their managed areas, something Cardin said hasn’t been done since around 1962.

He said 4,000 acres is manageable, stating the county manages White Tanks Park, which is 30,000 acres.

Cardin said planning would be a community-wide process and recommended planning the open space as a whole.
Carole Perry
During public comment, a jubilant Carol Perry said, “I feel like I lived my whole life for this. Look what we’ve done. I just feel like dancing. This is the coolest thing since Spur Cross – even better.”

Thanking council, Jacki Davis said when the town incorporated, “We never envisioned anything this extensive.”

George Ross said, “At $400 per acre, I will personally donate money to this town to make this purchase.” He asked, “At this price, how many other people in this room will contribute?” Hands were raised throughout the room.

T.C. Thorstenson said, “I’d offer to write a check tonight if I could.”

Steve LaMar said, “I don’t think there will be another time when you will have the people who could have done this. This is the best win-win we’ve had in 20 years. We should all be dancing.”

Korina Riggin said the number one reason people wanted open space was “for a buffer to the rest of the world.”

Bob Williams said, “I’ve heard win-win several times this evening. This is a win-win situation. The key issue here is cost. It’s just a shame it came at this time in our economy.”
He said, “You have the most innovative town manager, I think, in the valley. Get grants, find the money, get it done.”

Birnbaum called it a “happy confluence of events.”

Councilwoman Grace Meeth said she agreed with the mayor that land reform isn’t going to happen.

“My concern,” said Meeth, “The land has to go to auction. I want this to work. The reality is, Phoenix [preserve] land went to auction at $28,000 per acre. My concerns aren’t based in fear they’re based in reality.”

Councilwoman Kim Brennan said she was full of gratitude and humbled by the process.
Councilman Thomas McGuire called it a “bold vision,” and said when the town purchased Spur Cross it was dealing with developable land.

Councilman Ernie Bunch said, “We’re going to be able to save something really special and I’m really excited.”

Councilman Dick Esser called it the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

Vice Mayor Gilbert Lopez said, “I would propose a property tax and think people would vote to buy it right now. But then my bubble was burst when I heard it had to go to auction. We should buy it as quickly as possible.”

Francia said, “The future belongs to the bold.”

He noted there were bumps in the road during the seven-year process and said, “Anyone who is critical, show me your plan.”

Photo: After Monday night’s annexation workshop, Carol Perry said, “I feel like I’ve lived my whole life for this. I just feel like dancing. This is the coolest thing since Spur Cross – even better.”
Photo by Linda Bentley