BY LINDA BENTLEY | MARCH 21, 2012
Split council rescinds one deed of gift, unanimously accepts another
‘The problem isn’t me, it’s my neighbor who’s been suing me for the past six years’
CAVE CREEK – Town Attorney Marlene Pontrelli introduced an agenda item during the March 19 council meeting to rescind the deed of gift for property gifted to the town by Sonoran News Publisher/Editor Don Sorchych, which was accepted by council during the January 17, 2012 meeting, and requested approval for a quit-claim deed back to Sorchych.
Pontrelli stated, subsequent to the town accepting the deed of gift, she received a call from Attorney Steven Mahaffy, who is representing Gerald Freeman (r) in a lawsuit against Sorchych, stating the case was still pending and if the town kept the deed of gift for that property, they would also become the target of a lawsuit.
Freeman has been suing Sorchych for the past six years for road maintenance on an easement he must traverse across Sorchych’s property. In a more recent suit filed by Freeman, he is asserting he has exclusive rights of the use of Sorchych’s property.
In essence, Freeman’s claiming Sorchych is trespassing over his own property – property on which he pays property taxes.
Sorchych, on the other hand, deeded the gift of property to the town, in response to a letter sent to six property owners in December 2011 by Town Engineer Wayne Anderson, requesting easement/right-of-way footage for future improvements to the existing roadway.
The letter was also sent to Mr. and Mrs. Gary McCormick, Susan Pertl, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Freeman, Jane Reed and Cahava Springs LLC.
When Sorchych deeded the gift of property, Freeman became rankled, not to mention the court, which was informed Sorchych no longer owned the property that was the subject of the lawsuit by Freeman's attorney.
During public comment, Jennie Cure claimed Sorchych’s property wasn’t needed to connect the trail system and said the property owned by Cavaha Springs LLC would complete the trail.
She asked why council wasn’t informed about the pending litigation and why it was placed on the consent agenda.
Bernard Buffenstein also took to the podium to say the item caught his attention “because the donor is a man known for poison pen fame.”
Buffenstein went on about other issues he had with Sorchych not pertinent to the agenda item and exceeded his three-minute allotment.
Sorchych readily admitted to being responsible for the recall of Buffenstein when he was mayor and said, “He was a lousy mayor.”
However, Sorchych said there was nothing conspiratorial about the deed of gift.
He said the lawsuit is a “trivial case,” whereas Freeman is claiming Sorchych has no right to the use of his own property on which he’s paying property taxes.
Sorchych said, “The problem isn’t me,” and pointing to Freeman sitting in the audience, he stated, “It’s my neighbor who’s been suing me for the past six years. There’s no conspiracy … Give me my property back.”
Councilman Thomas McGuire moved to rescind the deed of gift.
Anderson seconded the motion stating, “It’s the right decision for now. It would have made a great horse trail.”
Pontrelli reiterated to council that Freeman was “not willing to allow the deed of gift without dragging the town into the lawsuit.”
Councilman Jim Bruce said his concern was that it was on the consent agenda and now counsel will have to look at consent agendas more closely.
Councilman Steve LaMar said, “Allegations and threats of lawsuits are not going to stand in the way of the town’s plans. We can all agree it shouldn’t have been on the consent agenda.”
Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch said anyone could sue anyone for the price of the filing fee, adding, “A gift of 33 feet – It’s his to give. I’m really inclined to vote no on this.”
Mayor Vincent Francia stated, “Deeds of gifts are always on the consent agenda,” and said he didn’t agree with rescinding the gift.
Council voted 4-3 in favor of rescinding the deed with Councilman Dick Esser, Bunch and Francia dissenting.
The next items on the agenda were to authorize the mayor to accept a dedication of 130 acres and approve the property acquisition for public open space between the town of Cave Creek and Cahava Springs Conservancy, and enter into the first amendment to extend pre-annexation agreement.
Trails Coordinator Bambi Muller projected a map of the town’s trail systems and proposed connections.
She said the proposed Morning Star Trail, which is directly to the south of the Sorchych dedication, will provide an important connection from the east to the west connecting Spur Cross Recreation Area with Cave Creek Regional Park.
During public comment, Terry Smith, speaking on behalf of numerous west side residents present, said, “This is very, very important to us on the west side of Cave Creek Wash to have access.”
Stating it’s four miles to the post office but those on the west side have to drive 12 miles down to and along Carefree Highway to get there, Smith said, “It’s very import to us that council realizes we’re not the ugly step-children and gives us some form of legal access across the creek.”
LaMar stated having the trail system is “a cornerstone of this town.”
McGuire said the trail system is why Cave Creek is not like Scottsdale.
Council voted unanimously to approve the acquisition.
Pontrelli said the pre-annexation agreement for the Cahava Springs dedication of open space could require the town to pay some property tax liens.
She said a title report had already been completed and the town would talk to the assessor’s office to try to negotiate a settlement amount.
Town Accountant Marian Groeneveld said it was not a budgeted item but could be paid out of contingency funds, which she said are set aside for such instances.
During public comment, Desert Foothills Land Trust Executive Director Sonia Perillo offered enthusiastic support and said she was thrilled to hear the property contains Apache Springs, it’s on the Maricopa Trail, has great recreational resources and is a really key connection.
Smith encouraged council to unanimously approve the acquisition.
Bunch moved to approve and said, “It thrills me … I don’t see how we can possibly go wrong.”
LaMar seconded the motion, called the property a “great gem” and said, “I’m so happy this will be part of our town forever.”
Council voted unanimously in favor of the acquisition as open space.