Cave Creek officials await addition of 4,000 preserved acres

By Curtis Riggs | August 20, 2008

Preparing to take the lead on preservation
CAVE CREEK – The possible addition of 4,000 acres of preserved State Trust Land has Town and Maricopa County officials brainstorming about the best ways to incorporate the land into Cave Creek’s other preserved properties and the best ways to manage them.

Mayor Vincent Francia is paying close attention to Cave Creek’s attempt to annex 8-square miles of land to the west. He focuses on the 4,000 acres that will be preserved into perpetuity through the annexation. What pleases Francia most about the newest preservation effort is that much of the new 4,000 acres lies between the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area and the Cave Creek Recreation Area.

“We will then have so much open space we will have to look at the best ways to keep it preserved so we don’t love it to death while at the same time keeping it available to equestrians and hikers,” he said. Over half of the land in town (53 percent) will be preserved open space if, and when, the massive annexation receives a final approval from top state officials.

When the 2,134-acre Spur Cross Ranch Conservation area is added to the 4,000 acres of Trust Land, which will be preserved open space, Cave Creek will have the distinction of being one of the most preservation-minded communities in the state if not the nation.

“We will be the only community in Arizona with over 50 percent of its land as open space,” Francia remarked.

The State Selection Board, which is comprised of Gov. Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Terry Goddard and State Treasurer Dean Martin, will get the next chance to approve the annexation when it meets on Oct. 20. The Selection Board has been scheduled to discuss the annexation many times before but the meetings have been cancelled because the top three officials are so busy.

The next step after the Selection Board meeting will be for Cave Creek officials to work to rezone the lands in the annexation area.

Both Francia and Cave Creek Town Manager Usama Abujbarah expect the annexation to be approved by the end of the year.

Francia is talking about the formation of an annexation task force and Abujbarah is talking to Maricopa County Parks Department officials in preparation for bringing the new land into Cave Creek. The addition of the new preserved lands could also lead to the drafting of an Open Space Master Plan.

Also at issue in the annexation is the potential for Spur Cross to be linked to the Cave Creek Recreation Area by adding in the 4,000 acres, which borders both.

Cave Creek presently manages Spur Cross Ranch, while Maricopa County manages the Cave Creek Recreation Area.

“The task force will revisit the preservation and open space issues because of the additional 4,000 acres,” Francia said.

Both Francia and Abujbarah as well as Maricopa County Parks Department Director R.J. Cardin say it may be best if all the new preserved land is overseen by just one governmental entity.

“Maricopa County would like the Cave Creek Recreation Area, Spur Cross Ranch and the new 4,000 acres to be all under one auspices. Cave Creek would manage it just like Spur Cross Ranch,” Francia said. “On the surface it makes a lot of sense to consolidate the preserved areas under one roof.”

Abujbarah agrees the best way to manage the preserved open space is through the new master plan.

“That may be the best way to approach it,” Abujbarah said.

“We need to be realistic about how we can manage the properties,” Cardin said.