Motion to adjourn turns planning commission meeting into free-for-all

Mohr, referring to Iverson’s contention the church was trying to ‘flip’ the property, said owning property for 20 years does not constitute a flip
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CAVE CREEK – With commissioners Dan Baxley and John Ford absent, the March 20 planning commission meeting addressed the application for a general plan amendment for the two-acre Carefree Highway Community Church property at the northwest corner of Carefree Highway and 50th Street that had been continued from the Jan. 16 meeting.

Associate Planner Luke Kautzman explained the property was part of Area 25, which had previously been voted down for a general plan amendment that would pave the way for commercial rezoning.

norm surrattHe said the applicant Pastor Norm Surratt (l) was now back for a general plan amendment and rezoning.

According to Kautzman, the applicant held community meetings in October and November.

Attorney Brian Greathouse from law firm Burch & Cracchiolo presented an overview of the property and stated it was important to note the property was located at a signalized intersection directly across the street from Fry’s.

He said the existing building is the youth ministry facility of the church and stated the site, which has three points of access, had been largely disturbed and was not pristine desert.

Greathouse said they received 17 letters in support of the change in use and indicated traffic was not an issue.

He stated the applicant originally thought about a senior center or assisted living facility but has agreed to restricting uses on the site through either CC&Rs and/or a development agreement with the town that would prohibit operations between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m and hours for deliveries.

He said the church’s interest in the restrictions stems from them having to live across the street from the property at their current facility.

Greathouse said the residential designation has outlived the site and stated the guiding principles of the general plan will enhance and clean up the site.

Commissioner Eileen Wright asked, “Why does this make sense?” and said she was told the property would be sold by the church after the rezoning.

As to the applicant’s claim that a rezoning will complement the quality of life, Wright asked, “How can you make such a claim when you don’t know what will be developed on the site.

She asked who would be enforcing the CC&Rs and if the church would be hiring an attorney to enforce them.

Wright asked if the applicant had done a traffic study or market analysis.

Greathouse said they had not.

Commissioner Bob Voris stated he shared some of the same concerns regarding CC&Rs and said they couldn’t be enforced once the property sold.

Kautzman stated rezoning cannot be conditional but a development agreement gives the town control.

Voris asked if such an agreement would take care of business hours and delivery hours.

Kautzman replied, “Yes.”

Vice Chair Rae Iverson stated, “This is not in the best interest of this town,” and said there were 17,000 square feet of commercial at Dove Valley Ranch not utilized.

She said the signaled intersection is for traffic control not commercial.

Iverson stated, “What you’re proposing would have a negative impact on the residential area,” and said there were about 200 residential properties in the area.

She stated it was not in the best interest of residential neighbors and said it looked like a “flip opportunity” for the church.

She stated the Bullington property on the southeast corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway, Area 18 and the front of Area 10 were still undeveloped and there is over 500,000 square feet of commercial buffer in town.

Greathouse commented there were a lot of people present in support of the application and asked the people who lived in Cave Creek to raise their hands.

At least one third of those present raised their hands.

During public comment, David Smith said, “When people say what’s on the south side [of Carefree Highway] should be on the north side, I call that Phoenix creep.

He stated the church wants to rezone to make more money.

Smith said, “If people are here to speak from Cave Creek, fine, not zip code Cave Creek. Anyone else should have nothing to say.”

When Scott Howie stated the town is $60 million in debt, Chairman Ted Bryda interrupted to say that was not relevant.

Howie, who lives in the neighborhood, said money from the sale will bring money back into the community and tax dollars would be another benefit.

According to Howie, signalization is a precursor for commercial development.

He said there was already a move in that direction from the east and noted Cave Creek had already made numerous mistakes on opportunities until Walmart.

Christa Barro, a Cave Creek resident for 23 years, said she and her husband own the Barro’s Pizza in town and stated she frequents Lowe’s, and CVS.

She said her family has been involved with the church for 15 years.

Barro stated, “I’m sure McDonald’s has done its homework. I’m sure they know there’s enough traffic.”

She said she dreams of someday opening a juice bar on the church parcel, stating she knows the town needs revenue and asked, “How does McDonald’s complement our quality of life?”

She also questioned multi-family residential and said it would impact the area with crime.

Steve Gold said he is a Cave Creek resident, Carefree business owner and church member.

He said the zoning change would make the property more valuable and marketable.

Gold asked for approval and said the rezoning and subsequent sale of the property will help with church programs.

Ron Clark said he is not a Cave Creek resident but is more concerned about the kids in the community and the problem with drugs. He said, “It’s important to us.”

A man named Vince, who said he was probably the only one in the room who was born and raised in Cave Creek, thanked Wright for her good questions.

He said, “I’d like to see a way to make this a win situation for the church. It’s going to go commercial anyway. I love what you guys have done with commercial nearby so we don’t have to go to Phoenix.”

Janet Mohr said she is a 20-year resident and pointed out the property is on Carefree Highway, emphasizing the word “highway.”

She said the town threw away an opportunity with Home Depot because of an emotional decision and stated the town needs the tax dollars.

Mohr stated, “I believe it is in the best interest of the town,” and, referring to Iverson’s contention the church was trying to “flip” the property, said owning property for 20 years does not constitute a flip.

Referring to the vacancies across the street cited by Iverson, Mohr said it is cyclical.

She said it’s not up to the town to decide if property will remain vacant and the owner has property rights.

Mohr urged the commission to recommend approval and said, “You already granted it to McDonald’s,” asking, “How is this different?”

Pastor Norm Surratt explained Carefree Church was named that because it was on Carefree Highway.

He stated, “The church is an eyesore, but it was all we could afford.”

Surratt said the money would go to the benefit of ministering to their youth.

Of the 2,500 members of their congregation, Surratt said two thirds have Cave Creek mailing addresses and of those more than half are Cave Creek residents.

As he thanked them for listening, Surratt said he was concerned about the negative comments from the commission and said he hoped they make the right recommendation for the town and church.

Ron Iverson spoke in opposition stating neighbors were opposed to the rezoning as he mentioned some of the allowable uses under General Commercial zoning.

He said CC&Rs are not enforceable, residents want to see organized development, the applicant had not met the five factors and the application should be denied.

Iverson stated a solution was underway and that Planning Director Ian Cordwell was working on a Special Planning Area (SPA) that would be an overall development plan to avoid piecemeal, strip mall development.

He said, “Give us time to complete this SPA.

Todd Gilson, who has lived in close proximity to the parcel for 17 years, said he was in favor of responsible development but was scared of what unknown use it might have.

He pointed out Sat Nam Way, which parallels Carefree Highway to the north, was once being considered an alternate emergency route, but looked more like a back-door way for commercial development.

Gilson said, no one from 50th Street was contacted.

“I’m not opposed to commercial development, but I am to the unknown.”

He urged responsible development that would preserve the homes in the area and asked that they recommend denial.

Greathouse noted everyone who spoke was very passionate and said, “That’s great that people care about their community.”

He said this was not a situation where an investor wants to turn property, develop and get out.

As far as the SPA was concerned, Greathouse said he was “not quite confident” it will be approved. When it might could be more than a year down the road.

Greathouse said, “Factors are different than elements,” and stated development standards have requirements for buffer.

He said, “We do have support from the neighbors” as he reiterated the prohibited uses on the site.

Commissioner Ray Fontaine asked if they were willing to incorporate additional stipulations.

“Yes,” replied Greathouse.

Fontaine moved to recommend approval with a second from Iverson.

Iverson said, “Let the people complete the SPA. I think we need to deny a single application and look at the entire area.”

Wright said she agreed with Iverson and stated, “The solution is not to do piecemeal zoning. It’s counter to everything Cave Creek holds sacred.

Commissioner Bob Voris sounded as though he supported the application but said, “I’m gonna vote no tonight without prejudice. We need to play it out.”

ted brydaBryda (l) reiterated his stand against spot zoning and piecemeal development and said, “I believe it all has to be done at once. I cannot support this tonight.”

However, he said he supports what the church is doing for kids.

The vote failed by a vote of 0-4 with Fontaine abstaining.

Then with a motion on the table to adjourn, the meeting turned into a free-for-all with Bryda accepting and answering questions from the audience about the application.

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