By Linda Bentley | october 21, 2015

Council optimistic about land preservation

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CAVE CREEK – Even though Town Manger Peter Jankowski and Town Marshal Adam Stein were unable to attend Monday night’s council meeting Mayor Vincent Francia wanted to make a point of complimenting them and the entire staff for the Taste of Cave Creek event and said, “Well done.”

During Call to the Public, Reg Monachino spoke about the recent consolidated court audit and said the resulting “no exceptions” was the equivalent of an A+ grade.

He chastised the town for not putting a copy of the audit on its website and stated he also didn’t see anything about the audit in the town’s “official newspaper.”

This reporter spoke on behalf of Sonoran News to advise council the newspaper did in fact cover the Carefree meeting on Oct. 6 when the audit was presented and wrote about it in the Oct. 14 edition: “Carefree touts court consolidation as a point of pride for both towns.”

Adam Trenk told council he has been receiving calls and said citizens are upset with the direction the town is taking.

He said that was punctuated by settling the lawsuit with former Town Manager Usama Abujbarah for $300,000, which he claimed was a winnable lawsuit.

He said the town acted hypocritically by firing the town attorney and then using the law firm as an excuse to settle the case.

While Sonoran News was taking a photo, Trenk said, “Make sure you get me with my eyes closed and mouth open.”

Steve Betts

Council voted unanimously to enter into a contract for $5,000 per month for 12 months with Steve Betts to work with the town and state land department to come up with a permanent solution to preserving the 4,000 acres of open space.

During public comment, Eileen Wright questioned why the town would entertain an agreement with Betts and asked if the land had received some sort of geological designation.

She questioned what the contract required Betts to do and claimed comps for land were $15,358 per acre.

Wright said Betts had a similar contract with the town of Carefree and wanted to know how the town would be able to determine when he was working for which town.

Kerry Smith said he had four issues with the contract that repeat some of what Wright said, including: objectives, the term being left blank, method of evaluating performance and his preference for an hourly rate.

Smith claimed Betts didn’t have any established record at the community level, or at least it was not indicated in his resume.

Smith said the town should utilize an RFP (request for proposal) system, which he said wouldn’t preclude Betts from applying.

Betts, who used to practice law prior to becoming president of SunCor Development, from which he is now retired, said he has quite a bit of background in the area.

Betts said he was a pro bono lobbyist that helped put together the Spur Cross preservation deal.

He stated also helped with preservation of a cave down near Benson.

Betts said he has dedicated a lot of his career working with state trust lands and it is something about which he knows very much.

Betts was on Gov. Doug Ducey’s transition team and Ducey accepted Betts’ recommendation to appoint Lisa Atkins to head the state land department.

Also a Cave Creek resident, Betts said, “I volunteered my help that got us to this point.”

As for his work with Carefree, Betts said he was doing some minor work with respect to economic development in its town center.

Councilman Mark Lipsky thanked Betts for his pro bono work and asked what his approach would be now that would be more effective, without giving away any trade secrets.

Betts said they would need to discuss some things in executive session with Town Attorney Bill Sims but noted he helped put together the aspect of density transfers while acknowledging the Arizona Constitution does not allow for “conservation” as a land use.

He also pointed out there is no way to force the state land department to put any land up for sale.

Without being able to move some of the developable land, Betts said land commissioners have been reluctant to bring undevelopable land to market.

He also wanted to clarify that he didn’t write any of the agreements and only helped structure them.

Councilman Dick Esser noted the number of months on page two of the contract was left blank and asked Betts if he had a guess as to how long it might take.

Betts suggested putting in a “12,” stating it takes at least that long to get anything done with the state.

He also said if it appeared they weren’t making any headway he would call it off.

The mayor said he purposely left that blank so council could decide.

Councilman Thomas McGuire said the land department is held to selling land for the highest and best use, a hurdle in the Constitution because conservation is not allowed.

Betts stated, “I think there’s a way to make this work.”

Lipsky noted a part of the contract that said it could be terminated “for cause” and suggested it be changed to read “for any reason,” which Betts said was fine with him.

Responding to questions from council, Betts said because there was some developable land, the town needs to make it more enticing to the state land department and bring some applicants.
In making the motion to approve the contract, Francia stated he was thinking about it that day and said Spur Cross was put together by a coalition, a unique composition that will probably never happen again.

He said the way they approached the 4,000 acres was equally unique and no one had ever done it before.

Francia said the town annexed the land to the west because Phoenix would have otherwise.
He said, “We were given 20 years to solve this,” noting the town has 12 or 13 years left.

Francia said Atkins is the fifth land commissioner the town will be dealing with and although citizens might be inclined to vote in a property tax to preserve the 4,000 acres, he emphasized, “Property tax has never, ever been part of the discussion.”

“I don’t think it will be one thing that makes this land safe,” said Francia, adding, “Betts has talent and access with extensive experience in economic development.”

Vice Mayor Steve LaMar said one of the reasons he became involved in politics in the community was to finish the preservation effort.

He said, “It’s all in the timing and the timing couldn’t be better.”

LaMar said factors on their side include having access to the current administration and the reason Sims was sitting in the room was “not because of what Trenk said” but because Sims has put together big deals such as Bank One Ball Park.

He said, “These people are going to tell us the truth,” and the town was assembling “a small group of people who get stuff done.”

LaMar stated getting 4,000 acres of open space is worth $60,000 and said, “The time is now.”
Lipsky was asked for comments after LaMar’s impassioned speech and could only say, “Wow.”
Esser stated, “I’m in,” but he needed to make a confession and said “I never thought they would pull off Spur Cross.”

After McGuire and Councilman Ernie Bunch were told the contract would be amended to be for 12 months but could be canceled for any reason, they were both on board.

However, Bunch said he didn’t have enough information to support spending $60,000. He said, “I don’t know what path we’re going down.

Councilwoman Susan Clancy said, “I believe everyone who lives in this town wants to do this. Let’s do what we can and put some of the best negotiators together.”

LaMar said, “This is a small leap of faith.”

Esser said, “This is the loosest contract I’ve ever seen but this is the key to the door.”

Council voted unanimously to recommend approval for a liquor license for the Silver Spur Saloon, formerly the Smokehouse.

Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek said she asked the applicant to correct the map of the premises submitted with the application to the liquor board to include the existing facilities and not the entire property, which she said was done.

Council also voted unanimously to approve an expenditure in the amount of $12,050.67 to repair the wastewater pump at Rancho Mañana.

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