Walmart or property tax, those are the options

By Linda Bentley | October 7, 2009

PRIZE forumGrace Meeth, seated between PRIZE Chair Dean Phillips and Janelle Smith-Haff, told attendees at Sunday’s forum that a property tax in lieu of Walmart would cost each household in Cave Creek $56 per month. Photo by Linda Bentley

Propositions 400 and 401 – let the voting begin
CAVE CREEK – The Political Action Committee PRIZE (Protect Residential Integrity Zoning and Environment), against propositions 400 and 401, hosted its final forum at Desert Foothills Library on Sunday. The forum also included Friends of Cave Creek, the political action committee advocating the passage of propositions 400 and 401, and Cave Creek Town Council, with the exception of Councilman Adam Trenk.

Early voting officially starts on Oct. 8 and citizens of Cave Creek may vote either for or against the general plan amendment (Prop. 400) and rezoning (Prop. 401) applications allowing Walmart to build a store on 20 acres south of the 12-acre Bullington property at the southeast corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway, abutting Olesen Road to the south.

PRIZE Chairman Dean Phillips lives on Olesen Road and said, “What’s happening to the Olesen neighborhood could happen to any neighborhood. PRIZE has been considerably outspent by Friends of Cave Creek, which is funded primarily by Walmart.”

He said he was not against Walmart or the town but believed the store should be built on the 240 commercially zoned acres at Carefree Highway and 24th Street, not on Cave Creek Road on residentially zoned land.

Terry Smith, representing Friends of Cave Creek, said the town lost eight businesses and three restaurants over the past year.

He said the Chevron Station on the southwest corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway was the largest contributor of revenue to the town.

Smith said, “We have a choice. We can save a field three miles away from the town core … until the next application.”

Someone in the audience asked about Albertson’s and Basha’s losing jobs to Walmart.
Smith said Walmart has no direct competition to the town of Cave Creek, “It’s time to put Cave Creek first … They are not going to be job losses to our town.”

Former Councilwoman Grace Meeth, a PRIZE representative, claimed Walmart would force all the businesses in town out of business and said, “You don’t get more tourists by putting Walmart at the gateway to your town.”

When Christopher Aepli said he was trying to be “an impartial moderator,” it drew a few snickers, as Aepli had spoken at every public hearing in opposition to Walmart’s applications.

George Ross asked if Phillips believed in capitalism or socialism.

Phillips responded by saying, “This is not the forum for that. I’m pro business. I’m pro Walmart at an appropriate location … Carefree Highway with direct access to Carefree Highway.”

Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch said Walmart was going where the traffic already is and stated, “You bought on one of the busiest intersections in Maricopa County. The decision we made as council was for the benefit of the entire town.”

Councilman Steve LaMar said, “This is a no-brainer,” and asked, “Are we fundamentally changing the character of the area south of Carefree Highway? No. There’s an area of about five homes.”

Someone asked council if they believed someone who is going to go to Walmart to save 50 cents on toilet paper was going to spend hundreds of dollars in discretionary spending in town.

Councilman Jim Bruce responded by saying the stores in Cave Creek are for discretionary spending, adding, “We want to be able to buy our necessities in town,” pointing out they’ve always given that away to neighboring communities.

Phillips said the store was going to be a reduced sized Walmart at an unproven location … He said, “Let’s try to figure out how Walmart, as an anchor, can attract other stores,” indicating it should be located out on Carefree Highway.

Pointing out the Carefree Highway location was in the middle of the desert with nothing around it, Smith said, “Right now they can place a profitable store where the people already are.”

One woman said, “If you see my truck in Walmart’s parking lot, you can be sure it’s stolen. Why is a property tax in Cave Creek such a bad idea? What will it really cost?”

vince franciaMayor Vincent Francia said a property tax on the town would cost a great deal because there are not many residents, stating, “The last thing anyone would want to do is levy a property tax.”

He asked, “Why would I want to do that when there is an offer of a business coming to town?”

Francia said he didn’t have the information with him but could provide her an answer on cost the next day.

Meeth said, “I can give you a straight answer,” and stated it would cost approximately $56 per month per household.

Phillips said, “The issue of property tax … I’m not adverse to helping the town. We’re not advocating a property tax.”

Ross pointed out Meeth had voted in favor of the rezoning at Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway for the gas station and said, “That’s a fact.”

It was later pointed out that Meeth also voted for the rezoning in the annexation area to the west.

Francia explained, “State land will always be state land and the state land department wants to develop 120 acres all at once … with a lease.”

PRIZE representative Janelle Smith-Haff said, “Walmart came to town – we don’t know if Walmart came to town or if the town approached Walmart – that’s a gray area.”

Francia interrupted and said, “There’s no gray area, Walmart came to us.”

Smith-Haff concluded if the town could do this to one residential neighborhood anyone’s neighborhood could be next.

Meeth said PRIZE was approached twice by unions but said they were told this was a local issue, not a union issue.

Phillips indicated his home has been diminished in value because of Walmart and when pressed by Bunch as to what percentage he attributed to Walmart rather than the current economic climate, he said he believed it was off by 60 percent.

Francia asked, “Did the applicant not follow the process to request a general plan amendment?”

Phillips declined to answer.

Meeth concluded by saying, “This isn’t an Olesen Road issue. You can’t keep the character of Cave Creek by changing the character of Cave Creek.”

Francia said, “Walmart, or any other business, has a right to apply to have their business here … Phoenix is building a police and fire station just down the road,” asking, “Why does it come as such a surprise?”

A 1960 aerial photo of Cave Creek on the wall, reflecting how completely devoid of development the entire area was back then, punctuated Francia’s statement: “Walmart isn’t causing the change. People are causing the change by moving here.”

Because the forum was only noticed for council to attend from 2 to 4 p.m., LaMar interrupted at 4 p.m. to announce council members needed to leave. Some audience members apparently didn’t understand the legal ramifications of a quorum being present and made some rude remarks until Toby Payne yelled out, “It’s the law!”