Whispering Hills takes on APS route as council delays action

Council tables reconsideration vote on SAP, vowing to bring forward an amendment to eliminate 10-acre ‘problem area’
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CAVE CREEK – Wes Cooper spoke during Call to the Public and said he hoped council was planning to reconsider the Specific Area Plan (SAP).

Anna Marsolo took to the podium, first addressing Councilman Ernie Bunch regarding his statements about the intersection of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway being destined to be commercial when Walmart was seeking to locate in Cave Creek and asked where the intersection ends.

Marsolo then addressed Councilman Mike Durkin to say she had high hopes for him when he was running for council and read from his campaign promises.

She called him a big disappointment and asked if people could count on him to keep even one of his campaign promises.

Marsolo told him if the recall against him is successful, “I will run against you and beat you.”

Cheryl Carmitchel lives behind Lowe’s adjacent to the 10-acre parcel added to the SAP for possibly accommodating a 33-foot tall hotel, to which she had previously spoken out in opposition.

Carmitchel said she learned a lot over the past two months, including speaking out at the planning commission meeting when she should have spoken before council where it would make a difference.

She said her request was simple and asked council to amend the SAP, which she didn’t oppose, in general, to eliminate the three parcels (making up the 10 acres) that were added in.

Another neighborhood resident spoke to say the 10-acre parcel that was slipped in to the plan was “not right.”

Angela Carmitchel read from statute and noted there were no signs posted and no neighborhood meetings to alert neighbors to the 10 acres being included in the SAP and asked council to reconsider a plan change.

Town Manager Peter Jankowski announced the paving project on Cave Creek Road came in under budget.

He also said he discovered a non-approved utility program that requires council approval and he would be bringing it forward on a future agenda.

Cave Creek Merchants and Events Association (CCMEA) President Johnny Ringo and Treasurer Marc Peagler provided council with an update on its status and Wild West Days, its signature event, which Peagler said would be expanded from three days to five days this year.

Ringo said CCMEA’s goal is to promote Cave Creek as a destination and strengthen commerce for all businesses.

He said they are just a small group of six volunteers who achieve this goal by putting on events.

Ringo said, “We are where the Wild West lives.”

Last year he said Wild West Days brought over 20,000 visitors to Cave Creek.

However, he stated they needed support from the town and the future of Wild West Days lies on their watch.

“This is our Superbowl,” said Ringo.

Peagler said since Nina Spitzer had taken over organizing volunteers to run the information center there have been anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 visitors who have come in to ask questions.

He said CCMEA’s website gets approximately 5,000 hits a month and they are in the visitor’s guide.

Peagler said the banner program is being “retooled” and cannot be used as an income generating tool due to IRS regulations on 501(c)(6) organizations.

According to Peagler, after Wild West Days they’ll only have about $1,000 in their bank account.

He also said, CCMEA should have been receiving 25 percent of the special event liquor sales from Taste of Cave Creek, which they have not been receiving.

According to Peagler, Wild West Days had a $7,000 shortfall and without support from the town, this year could be the last year.

When asked by Mayor Vincent Francia how much they were asking for, Peagler said it would be nice to receive $10,000 to give them a $3,000 cushion.

Vice Mayor Adam Trenk asked if it would help if they received 25 percent of the liquor sales from Taste of Cave Creek.

Peagler said anything would help.

Durkin asked why the merchants that benefit from Wild West Days weren’t contributing more to make it a success.

Since membership is only $100 per business, Durkin suggested increasing it to $170, which would make up the $7,000 shortfall.

Ringo said it wasn’t easy to go door to door to get people to join CCMEA. He also said residents could also support their efforts by joining for only $25.

Francia asked Jankowski to schedule a meeting where they could go over Taste of Cave Creek with Peagler and Ringo.

During public comment, Marsolo said she volunteers at the visitor’s center and on Saturday alone 19 people asked when Wild West Days is.

Jankowski indicated there is some sort of problem with event liquor licenses associated with 501(c)(6) organizations.

Introducing the next agenda item, which addressed easements for APS for a section of right-of-way for the 69kV project, Town Attorney Fredda Bisman indicated the easement agreements appeared typical of such agreements and if any minor changes needed to be made council should authorize the mayor to make them.

Richard Stuhan, APS project manager, said the project is a benefit to Cave Creek by providing a redundant source of electricity in the event of a failure.

He said although not a requirement for low voltage projects such as this one, APS held public meetings, met with all of the jurisdictions involved and came up with five route options.

According to Stuhan, the route ultimately selected was the only route that had more support than opposition and the route along Carefree highway represented a reasonable compromise of the interests of the various parties.

He also stated it was not the least expensive of the options.

There is a small portion of the nine-mile route for which APS did not have right-of-way for the pole locations near the Whispering Hills subdivision.

He said they located the poles at the street intersections to minimize the impact to the homes.

Councilman Thomas McGuire asked what action APS would take if the town did not approve the easement.

Stuhan said they could either reroute the project through other neighbor-hoods, affecting other homeowners or resort to condemnation.

Durkin questioned how placing the poles on the north side of Carefree Highway was considered less of an impact than placing them on the south side, which borders Phoenix preserve land.

He said, “I fail to see how that impacts the preserve,” and asked, “Why can’t we locate these three poles on the south side?”

Stuhan said most of the route is in Maricopa County right-of-way but on the south side, when owned by the state land department, it only had easement for road, not utilities.

Stuhan said, “We don’t have the right to go in there. Phoenix didn’t want us in there.”

He also said there was a small parcel of state land next to the preserve that precluded them from taking that route and they do not have powers of condemnation over state land.

Councilman Charles Spitzer asked if there were alternatives.

Stuhan said the town could form an underground improvement district to bury the lines.

During previous discussions regarding the possibility of burying lines, Stuhan said it was for just three miles, which came to an estimated cost of $10 million.

He said APS met with Whispering Hills residents regarding the possibility of undergrounding that section of the lines.

Councilman Reg Monachino said the town should have a legal review because they had two sets of documents with conflicting information from 1953 and 1959.

Durkin asked whether the money the town received for right-of-way could be put toward undergrounding the lines or moving them across the street.

Stuhan mentioned the structures used to transition from underground to above ground are substantially larger and could potentially “bookend” the community with those imposing structures.

Stuhan said APS has no problem with undergrounding the lines if the town wants to provide a mechanism to pay for it.

Francia stated, “I’m not interested in condemnation,” and called it a hostile process.

During public comment, Arthur Tamayne, president of the Sierra Vista (Whispering Hills) Homeowners Association asked council to table the item, claiming they had new information, and were meeting with the county and state land department.

Tom Davenport said no one had touched on the medical issues associated with EMF transmission and he also recommended the town table the item.

Ted Bryda said the agreement presented by APS was so one-sided that council should seek a contract lawyer and also take a good look at the appraisal, stating, “APS has done this for years.”

Marsolo said if people wanted to know what the poles look like they should drive up Fleming Springs Road, where she said she tried to get the town to do something to stop APS years ago.

A woman who said she moved to Cave Creek one year ago from Minnesota stated, “It seems pretty archaic to talk about above ground lines.”

Francia moved to table the item and said, “APS has a project to complete that will benefit Cave Creek … APS is not the heavy here. They are going where they’re told to go.”

He stated they’ve been working on this for two years and said, “We’re going to see if we can get this resolved. If not, let’s look at the actual numbers for under-grounding.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Council also voted unanimously to table Durkin’s motion to reconsider its vote approving the SAP, with the intention of bringing it back to council to be amended to remove the three parcels (10 acres) without having to reconsider the entire SAP.

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