Cave Creek reignites its horse wars

David Smith appointed to fill vacancy on planning commission
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nina sptizerCAVE CREEK – During Monday night’s Call to the Public, Nina Spitzer (r), who has been coordinating volunteers at the visitor’s information center in Cave Creek on behalf of the Cave Creek Merchants and Events Chamber of Commerce (CCMEA), told council they’ve served 9,500 visitors from all over the world.

She said 25 volunteers have donated 1,500 hours to provide visitors with information about the town.

While most of the volunteers will be returning to work at the center, Spitzer said they can use a few more volunteers and stated anyone with a love of Cave Creek who has some knowledge about the area would be welcome.

She also encouraged people to join CCMEA for the nominal membership fee of $125.

Anna Marsolo spoke about how the town came together for the preservation of Spur Cross with a property tax and said it was time again to ask citizens to tax themselves to pay down the town’s debt.

She said the town shouldn’t be upzoning properties to commercial for revenue at the expense of a few and it was a burden that should be shared by all citizens.

Johnny Ringo, president of CCMEA, thanked Spitzer and Anna, who also volunteers at the visitor’s information center, and told council the CCMEA puts on numerous events throughout the year to drive traffic to Cave Creek.

He said, while the agenda item insinuated the $10,000 contribution to CCMEA is for Wild West Days, the money is used for many of the other events as well.

David Prinzhorn updated council on the storm damage and said the cost to repair roads in Cave Creek is around $2.4 million.

He said they were doing some temporary fixes to Spur Cross Road so they don’t lose the road in its entirety with a new storm on its way.

When Prinzhorn advised he would be meeting with representatives from FEMA the following day, Mayor Vincent Francia asked him to put an item on a future agenda to update council on the results of that meeting.

Councilman Mike Durkin requested the extension of premises for the liquor license for Hogs N’ Horses be pulled from the consent agenda. He stated the application indicated the fencing and infrastructure was already in place.

However, after touring the premises over the weekend, he found that not to be the case.

Councilman Reg Monachino moved to recommend approval with a second by Vice Mayor Trenk.

Councilman Ernie Bunch said he was not going to support the recommendation due to a stop work order on the property and a number of other issues.

The motion failed by a vote of 2-5 with Monachino and Trenk voting in favor.

While discussing the $10,000 contribution to CCMEA, Durkin said the only reason he asked to remove it from the consent agenda was because state statute says such donations must have a return that is quantifiable.

Town Attorney Fredda Bisman said the town was not alone on this issue but indicated it most likely met the statutory requirements.

Councilman Charles Spitzer asked Ringo what the proposed uses were for the money.

Ringo stated the last financial report provided to council by the CCMEA would have shown them where all their money goes.

Ringo said insurance for Wild West Days was $7,000, an amount they didn’t anticipate.

He said $4,000 goes to wagons for the event, while a couple thousand is spent on newspaper and radio advertising for the event.

Ringo stated, “The expenses are a lot more than you’re giving us,” and said CCMEA is hoping to make some of it back from sponsors.

Ringo also told council CCMEA was no longer giving any money away to charities and it has done for the past 10 years.

He said, “We didn’t know it was inappropriate to do. We made a mistake for 10 years and nobody picked up on it.”

Spitzer said he’d like to see a breakdown of the expenses in the council packet in the future.

Monachino said he was a volunteer and member of CCMEA and always viewed the town and CCMEA as partners.

He mentioned the town has erected banner poles for CCMEA at an expense of $8,700 and, with contributions and other expenses on behalf of CCMEA, the town has put up $21,700.

He said members contribute $125.

Monachino said, “My suggestion to merchants … partner up.”

Bunch said the event has a residual effect on people who remember coming to Cave Creek, having a good time and coming back.

He said, “I’m certainly for this.”

Francia said the issue comes up from time to time and perhaps it was time for council to review its policies.

But with the event taking place in less than two months, Francia didn’t believe it would be right to pull the support out from under them at the last minute.

Council voted unanimously to provide CCMEA with $10,000.

An agenda item to decide whether or not to direct staff to amend the Specific Area Plan was met with a little confusion by residents who were there to speak on the issue.

Planning Director Ian Cordwell explained there were three parcels totaling approximately 15 acres behind Lowe’s that were added to the plan but then recommended for removal by the planning commission but were then added back in by Trenk on a reconsideration vote by council.

A number of residents on El Sendero Drive, who would be affected by the addition of those parcels to the SAP, which currently allows for assisted living and other multi-family uses and three-story buildings, spoke to say they were never notified of those parcels being added back in to the plan and didn’t support it.

One woman said she found it “shocking” that without any notice they could have a three-story building in their backyard.

Francia explained what an SAP is and said, in most cases, it’s an upzoning.

He said, if the agenda item was passed, council would direct staff to amend the SAP to come back with that removed.

Todd Gilson said he favored the SAP but opposed condominiums and other multi-family uses in their rural neighborhood.

Cheryl Carmitchel told council, “We don’t like this and we’re not going to tolerate this. We don’t want it part of the SAP.”

Carmitchel asked everyone in the room who was in favor of the amendment to stand, which was a showing of everyone in attendance for that agenda item.

After all the discussion that took place involved 15 acres, Trenk moved to direct staff to amend the SAP to eliminate 10 acres adjacent to Lowe’s.

McGuire, who was appearing telephonically, seconded the motion.

Bunch stated, “For reasons that will become apparent down the road, I’m not going to support it.”

Council voted 5-2, with Bunch and McGuire both voting “reluctantly no.”

Cordwell explained an agenda item involving 244 parcels in Cave Creek that are zoned DR-89 and DR-190 but do not have the land area corresponding to the zoning.

He said they were proposing to add a section to non-conforming uses that would allow those Desert Rural properties to have ranch and equestrian uses.

Concerns were expressed by residents from Red Dog Ranch who live on and next door to some of those undersized properties that could fall in this category and allow horses against the will of their neighbors, who do not wish to live next door to ranch animals.

Cordwell said he received one letter from a Red Dog Ranch resident in opposition to the ordinance.

During public comment, Eileen Wright said the town brands itself as a rustic, rural equestrian town and the ordinance will enhance that brand.

She said the ordinance will only increase the number of properties in town allowed ranch use by 2 percent and asked council to support it.

Janell Smith-Haff called the ordinance ambiguous and cited numerous chapters that appeared to cause confusion and conflicts.

Terry Smith said there were properties in town with horses on one acre and asked Cordwell if Town Marshal Adam Stein had received any complaints. Cordwell said he had not.

Smith said there was no reason not to allow horses on properties in Cave Creek and he would like to see it passed.

Marsolo said it looked like the same situation as with the residents on El Sendero where not enough information was out.

Everett Bell said the ordinance perplexed him and suggested council may not have thought it through.

A 20-year Highland Road resident, who owns property just shy of two acres asked if Cave Creek was really a horse community, pointing out a person with two acres can have 10 horses but if they have less than two acres they can’t have any.

Bunch told a story about the late Floyd Brooks who called this the “horse wars,” and said the people who didn’t want horses made the requirement two acres.

Bunch said he’d be happy if they made it one acre or more for horse property, like it is in the county and adjacent cities.

Before bringing the item to a vote, Francia said he would support the first reading of the ordinance but would not support the second reading until he sees where the 244 parcels are located and who will be affected.

The first reading passed by a vote of 5-2 with McGuire and Spitzer dissenting.

By a vote of 6-1, with Spitzer dissenting, council appointed David Smith to fill the vacancy on the planning commission due to the resignation of John Ford.

Spitzer had nominated Grace Meeth, who also applied.

Diane Grillo, who was not present, had also submitted a letter of interest.

Council voted unanimously to approve the amended final plat for the Hidden Rock mixed use development project, formerly known as the Estates at Shimaa Ni. The amended plat reduced the number of units from 72 to 52 and will include nine live/work units.

Town Manager Peter Jankowski explained an unauthorized low income water assistance program had been in place for the past two years providing customers who met certain income qualifications with a 50 percent reduction to their water bill.

He said there were 14 or 15 customers receiving assistance and it costs the town between $6,000 and $6,500 per year.

One of those on the program said he was provided little notice when the program was discontinued and his water bill doubled.

Bunch moved to authorize the program.

Monachino stated it was a government program and said, “Less government is better.”

He asked to amend the motion to not allow any new applicants, so the program doesn’t grow.

Durkin, who seconded the motion, asked Bisman if the amendment placed the town in any kind of predicament by treating people in like situations differently.

Although she hadn’t looked into the matter, Bisman said she believed the town was within its rights by limiting the program.

Bunch said he didn’t like the amendment and didn’t think it was right to preclude anyone.

McGuire said he couldn’t support the amendment.

The amendment failed by a vote of 4-2 with Spitzer and Monachino voting in favor and Trenk having left the meeting.

Bunch’s original motion passed by a vote of 5-1 with Monachino dissenting.

Council voted unanimously to abandon drainage easements no longer required on the front lot of the Walmart property, noting drainage had already been addressed by Walmart.

Council voted unanimously to reauthorize a pump invoice for the utilities department to include energy saving upgrades that added $511 to a previously authorized invoice.

An ordinance that was apparently inadvertently deleted from the zoning ordinance at some point in time addressing allowable roof overhangs of two feet was approved unanimously to be added back in.

Council unanimously authorized staff to investigate the town’s two major streets, School House and Spur Cross roads, to identify where the road right-of-way may need to be aligned with the current roadways.

According to Cordwell, there are apparently sections of the road that are not within the town’s right-of-way.

He said they would report back to council of their findings. 

Last on the lengthy agenda was approval for the town to charge a fee not to exceed $2 for notary services, which passed by a vote of 5-1 with McGuire dissenting.

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