Referendum already in the works on Walmart

By Linda Bentley | June 17, 2009

‘Opposition claims this is residential – this is where we agree to disagree’
CAVE CREEK – Mayor Vincent Francia’s signature was barely dry on Resolution R2009-09, signed shortly before midnight on Monday, when Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek received a voice message from Anna Marsolo regarding a referendum.

Dean Phillips, who lives on Olesen Road directly across from the Walmart site, arrived at town hall on Tuesday morning, accompanied by Marsolo, to pull the paperwork for filing a referendum.

Scott DahneA minimum of 126 valid signatures are required to have the item placed on the ballot.
Walmart’s general plan amendment application seeking to change the land use designation for approximately 20.53 acres, located immediately south of the Bullington family’s 13-acre commercial parcel at the southeast corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway, from Desert Rural to Mixed Use, was the first general plan application reviewed during Monday night’s council meeting.

Francia allowed 90 minutes for the public hearing on the item, cautioning those who planned to speak the three-minute time limit would be strictly enforced.

Walmart Attorney Sean Lake began by saying, “The property owner is Walmart Stores. They’re very successful because they know what they’re doing.”

Lake said the company goes through a very detailed process to select a site, stating, “They don’t just plop a store down … the site is not just an arbitrary location. One mile, two miles can make a difference.”

He said the “center of the bagel” analysis, describing the center of the population base, was instrumental in selecting the site.

While the opposition claims the site is residential, Lake said, “This is where we agree to disagree. We don’t believe this is a residential intersection.”

Councilman Ralph Mozilo asked, “What is the population of your bagel?”
Lake responded, “About 30,000.”

During public comment, Todd Gilson said he was for approval of Walmart and called the argument that the town is “selling its soul” bogus, pointing out Carefree Highway is already planned for six lanes.

George Ross also supported the general plan amendment, citing the town has three choices: Walmart, property tax, or, as Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch stated last week, a liquidator if it can’t pay its bills.

Ross pointed out Cave Creek voters have spoken and said, “Those who supported Walmart got elected, those who didn’t support Walmart didn’t.”

Dean Phillips’ daughter Jennifer said the project would affect the town’s water and sewer. She said traffic at the intersection was already over the limit and the town needed to commission a new traffic study by an impartial third party.

Rebecca Lester said the 20 acres of residentially zoned property was supposed to be the buffer zone from the Bullington parcel.

Jim Hamberlin said, “There’s no guarantee Walmart will build or stay,” They could make a windfall profit,” encouraging council to deny the application.

Several people brought up the 240 acres of commercially zoned state land to the west on Carefree Highway as a preferred location for Walmart.

However, as Town Manager Usama Abujbarah later explained, the state will be leasing that land and the application process would take a few years.

Charlie Spitzer said he heard the Sonoran Arts League received $40,000 from Walmart and since Councilman Jim Bruce’s wife is president, he should recuse himself.

John Ford, a 39-year Cave Creek resident, said, “… we have to make a decision. We’ve already lost tax base to Phoenix and Carefree. If I were Walmart I would have picked the same location. We have to do this.”

Cave Creek resident Rob Papineau said, “I think you need to vote for this. I personally couldn’t afford a property tax.”

On rebuttal, Lake said, “Let’s talk substance. This is a commercial intersection. This is an outstanding location.”

Adam Trenk and Carrie DyrekNewly seated Councilman Adam Trenk asked how soon the store could be open.

Lake said Walmart is ready to go, adding, “I can have the store open within 12 months from the time I get the permit.”

However, Lake cited there could be factors beyond Walmart’s control, such as if someone were to file a referendum, when the issue would be placed on the ballot or if a lawsuit is filed.

Trenk then asked, “What is the best case and worst case scenario?”

Lake responded, “Over what we have control over – You give me a permit, I can have a store built within 12 months.”

Trenk stated, “So, you don’t have a best and worst case scenario.”

Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch moved to approve the application with Mozilo providing a second.
Mozilo stated he supported Walmart during every single candidate forum and in writing in the Arizona Republic and Sonoran News and he got voted in. He said, “So, I am listening to the citizens.”

Trenk said, “This is a tough call.” While acknowledging the town’s need for sales tax revenue, he stated, “The impact to the south will be detrimental, so I’ll vote no in protest.”
Francia said, “I’ve been mayor of this community for the last ten years and I’ve worked my ass off to preserve as much land as possible … we are the change. Every time you come into a community you are the change,” and joked, “It’s not an inscription on a stone tablet that a citizen saw on a burning saguaro.”

He said the businesses that are there now all came through the same process.
Council voted 6-1 in favor of the amendment with Trenk dissenting.

Walmart’s rezoning application was then unanimously approved by council, with Councilman Steve LaMar commenting to the affected residents, “I’m sad the character of your neighborhood has changed. It was not due to any actions of Cave Creek.”

The general plan amendment application recommended for denial by the planning commission for Harry Thorston was voted unanimously to be continued to the July 20 meeting, since the Oregon resident was unable to be there.

And, last, Attorney Ben Pearson’s application failed by a vote of 6-1, with Bunch voting in favor.

For more details on these two applications, see the P&Z article.

The main concern expressed by council was there is no single entity to deal with and, according to Pearson, there are nine to 13 property owners involved.

Top photo: During Monday’s Call to the Public, Scott Dahne stated, “Because we have a confusing Zip Code that includes people who don’t live in Cave Creek, when I speak as a resident of Cave Creek, I am a voting resident,” and brought his voter registration card with him to prove it.

Lower Photo: Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek swore in Councilman Adam Trenk immediately before Monday’s council meeting, where he was seated for the first time before a packed audience, there primarily for Walmart’s general plan amendment and rezoning applications.

Photos by Linda Bentley