Grassroots, water rates and a hint of paranoia

By Linda Bentley | July 22, 2009

Charles Harry ThurstonCharles Harry Thurston, whose application for a general plan amendment was turned down on Monday for three parcels at the northeast corner of 48th Street and Carefree Highway, said old timers in Cave Creek back as early as 1950 “thought just like you … they didn’t want any of you to come out here.” Photo by Linda Bentley

‘Change is what happens and change is not necessarily progress’

CAVE CREEK – Call to the Public brought Bill Wicevich to the podium to dispel “misleading and fabricated information” about the Political Action Committee PRIZE, the acronym for Preserve Residential Integrity, Zoning and Environment.

He said George Ross’ letter to the editor in Sonoran News, accusing the PAC of being funded by the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers International Union) was “totally false.”

Ross claimed the union “hired teams of solicitors” to collect signatures for the PAC’s referendum. However, Wicevich stated it was a grassroots effort and every petition circulator was an unpaid volunteer from Cave Creek.

“We do not wish Cave Creek to fail economically,” said Wicevich, adding, “Yet, at the same time, we, as individual homeowners, do not wish to fail economically.”

In conclusion he said PRIZE is hopeful Sonoran News will be “objective and balanced” in its reporting and “when the great citizens of Cave Creek get the facts, they will vote wisely.”
Kim Brennan and Ralph Bednar gave a presentation on the status of the Economic Development Committee, with Brennan stating the committee was not yet ready to make recommendations to council.

However, she recommended installing a permanent sign at the corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway by Sept. 1, to welcome residents and visitors “home” to Cave Creek.
Bednar discussed how they could increase mobility for pedestrians and bicycles, with safe paths, shade and areas of discovery.

Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch reported on his findings regarding the possibility of a water rate adjustment. He agreed the assignment was very difficult and concluded he needed more than two months of data to work with but would continue his review.

Utilities Manager Jessica Marlow gave a brief update on the wastewater treatment plant and said construction was ahead of schedule.

Attorney Julian Weltsch from Lakeside, Ariz. represented Oregon resident Charles Harry Thurston’s application for a major amendment to the general plan. Thurston was also present.

He was requesting a land use designation change for three parcels totaling 3.82 acres at the northeast corner of 48th Street and Carefree Highway.

Councilman Ralph Mozilo asked if he had a specific project in mind.

Weltsch said when Thurston bought the land 30 years ago he had a saddle shop down on Bell Road and planned to do that with this property. However, due to failing eyesight and health reasons, Thurston moved to Oregon instead.

Mozilo asked, “Can you give me a reason why we should do this?”

Weltsch responded, “It’s not suitable for residential,” while noting there was almost unanimous opposition.

Thurston also spoke and rambled on about coming out to Cave Creek since 1950 and stated, “Old timers thought just like you. They didn’t want any of you to come out here.”
He then said, “If you don’t get some tax base here, you may not have a town. So, I can’t see how it makes a difference.”

Several neighbors immediately to the west in the Estado de Cholla subdivision all spoke in opposition.

David Smith pointed out the commercial development across Carefree Highway was 50 percent vacant and questioned any compelling need to grant a general plan amendment for Thurston’s parcels.

Anne Teixeria said her family lives two houses from the subject property and took exception to some of the applicant’s comments, citing there were $1 million homes on Scottsdale Road, which has traffic just as busy as Carefree Highway, if not more so.

“Someone called this change progress,” said Teixeria, adding, “Change is what happens and change is not necessarily progress.”

Councilman Dick Esser moved to approve the resolution while explaining it was customary to state the motion as written (in the affirmative).

Councilman Adam Trenk, who seconded the motion, said he called many of the people who signed the petition against the amendment to ask them why they opposed it.

Trenk said his concern was that general plan amendments were moving forward in a patchwork manner and stated, “If and when this comes up for rezoning, I’d like to see some architectural controls.”

Councilman Steve LaMar said he didn’t see a benefit to the neighborhood or the community, stating, “The general quality of residential on Carefree Highway was defined 30 years ago.”
Mayor Vincent Francia thanked Thurston for sharing some history but said he could not support the amendment.

Council voted 6-1 against the resolution, with Trenk voting in favor.

Planning Director Ian Cordwell introduced the general plan amendment recommended by staff to change the trigger for major general plan amendments from one acre to 20 acres.
Cordwell explained the process is identical except applications for minor amendments may be brought forward any time of the year, while major amendments must all be heard one time per year. He also suggested adopting the recommendation made by the planning commission that if a minor amendment was denied, it could not be brought forward again for another calendar year.

He reiterated the process is the same, including notices, public hearings before the planning commission and council, rights to refer, etc.

During public comment Chris Aepli said, “If approved, this is just a back-door way to get Walmart in.”

Francia looked bewildered and suggested Aepli was being paranoid.

Once again, Cordwell reiterated how a minor amendment still must go through the exact same process and said, “There is nothing back door about the public process.”

Grace Meeth suggested major general plan amendments be moved back to being heard in November again and said, “There was a lot of peace of mind knowing they were only heard once a year.”

Dean Phillips, chair of the PRIZE committee, said, “We all know what this general plan amendment is about. We see this as a direct action of the town to not allow this to go before the voters. We can all see what’s going on.”

Looking even more bewildered, Francia suggested Phillips was also being paranoid.

Phillips insisted he was not paranoid and could see what the town was up to.

Council voted unanimously in favor of the amendment.

By a vote of 4-3, with Francia, Bunch and LaMar dissenting, council approved the final budget, including an amendment by Mozilo to take $20,000 of the $34,000 allocated to council’s budget and give $5,000 each to the museum, library, Fiesta Days and Foothills Animal Rescue.

Francia, clearly bothered by Mozilo’s suggestion to appropriate money for charity, later said, “It is a slap in the face of everybody struggling to pay their water bills and those who have been laid off. It’s just inappropriate at this time.”