By Linda Bentley | DECEMBER 9, 2015

Carefree approves high-density housing project despite opposition

ĎSeven units per acre is not a transition, itís urban development. Thatís not why we moved to this area.í

CAREFREE – Jim Van Allen spoke during the Dec. 1 meeting’s Call to the Public to urge council not to authorize expenditures on projects in a piecemeal fashion.

Referring to additional spending on the gateways and on a later agenda item, he said, “We’ll never know how much all of this will cost until the end and we add it all up.”

Jo Gemmill provided council with an update on the Carefree Christmas Festival and said this was its eighth year.

She said, “Eight years ago Carefree Christmas was an inflatable Santa tied to a tree.”

Gemmill stated the majority of the festival is volunteer led and said, “As a team, we do what it takes to get this festival on the map.”

She said the recent Pumpkin Festival and other recent events have brought record sales to hers and other businesses in the town center.

Gemmill mentioned several new Christmas Festival sponsors this year and said they matched their goal of $24,000 in sponsors.

She gave credit to Lyn Hitchon, whom she said goes door to door to local merchants for donations.

Gemmill said there would be new music, dance and decorations this year.

She stated, “We are a victim or our own success” that draws 20,000 people to the festival.

This year, to provide an opportunity for locals to enjoy the festival, Gemmill said they added a preview night on Dec. 3.

Planner Stacey Bridge-Denzak provided council with an overview of the proposed minor general plan amendment, rezoning and preliminary plat for the Eastwood subdivision, a 39-home residential subdivision on approximately 10 acres west of the southwest corner of Pima and Cave Creek roads.

The applicant, Keystone Homes, was requesting a rezoning from General Office and Rural-43 zoning to a Residential Unit Planned Development (RUPD), which Bridge-Denzak stated was considered a special zoning district.

The change in zoning would allow for the moderate-density residential project, which, according to Bridge-Denzak is a less intense use than General Office.

She pointed out stated goals in the general plan that addressed transition between differing land uses.

Bridge-Denzak said the site has been vacant for some time and includes the old Carefree Studios, which she said were deteriorating and becoming a nuisance.

She said the RUPD zoning benefits both the town and the developer.

The proposed project consists of a gated community, 39 lots, ranging in size from 5,000 to 8,000 square feet, with all single-level homes not exceeding 22 feet in height, private roads, and a densely landscaped buffer along Cave Creek Road.

Bridge-Denzak said there would be no identical elevations either next door or across the street from one another.

She said the joint neighborhood meeting on July 9 was attended by 11 people.

During the public hearing, she said there were 25 speaker forms indicating opposition.

Despite citizen oppoition, the planning and zoning commission unanimously recommended approval.

Prior to the Nov. 11 council meeting, where council was asked to continue the item to the Dec. 1 meeting, Bridge-Denzak said they received six letters of support and three in opposition.

Rich Eneim, co-owner of Keystone Homes, said it is a family-owned business of 26 years and they’ve been working on the Eastwood project for 10-11 months.

Eneim stated people seeking to downsize needed new options if they wanted to stay in Carefree.

Several people spoke during public comment in opposition to the project with concerns over the density, lack of open space and desert landscaping, small lots, short driveways, minimum setbacks from adjacent properties and other issues.

Bob Shenkel stated he was opposed to the project, pointing out it encompasses 9.5 acres while the zoning ordinance requires at least 10 acres for an RUPD.

He disagrees with the density of seven homes per acre adjacent to one-acre properties.

Shenkel suggested R-18 or R-10 would be more suitable.

A Sky Ranch resident stated, “Seven units per acre is not a transition, it’s urban development. That’s not why we moved to this area.”

Bill Kauper, president of the Sky Ranch Homeowners Association, said he empathized with council about the decision before them.

Kauper said more residents opposed than supported the project.

While he said they didn’t want to stop progress, he encouraged the “zoning folks” not to be too casual and at least be very strict with respect to setbacks and landscaping.

He said, “We felt the zoning folks were too casual with compromise.”

Daniel Kovarik, an owner at Pima Norte, an adjacent commercial condominium, said he was concerned the 10-foot setbacks were too close to their offices.

Another citizen who attended the previous meetings said the developer agreed to maximum building heights of 20 feet.

Eneim stated that was before they had the elevations from the architect and said most were less than 21 feet and only one elevation was 22 feet.

Only one person, a realtor, spoke in support of the project, citing “many clients looking to downsize and stay in the area.”

Mayor Les Peterson asked what would happen to the land if they didn’t approve the application.

Town Administrator Gary Neiss said it would remain Garden Office, which also allows for assisted care facilities, which he stated is more intense use under the current zoning.

Neiss said the proposal was market driven, not initiated by the town.

Council voted unanimously to approve the general plan amendment, rezoning and preliminary plat, which indicated the project was 8.68 net acres.

The next item on the agenda was to approve the purchase of 28 custom gas lamp fixtures to match the existing lamps at a cost of $184,000 from 2nd Ave. Lighting and $31,000 to retrofit them with LED interior lamp parts from Let There Be Light.

Neiss said the lamps would be installed to illuminate dark areas in the town center.

He said they planned to install 26 and keep two as spares.

Neiss said the lamps take about four months to fabricate and the installation would be contracted at an additional cost.

Councilman Mike Farrar said the lighting was well needed and wasn’t sure if 28 lights were enough.

Neiss said the placement depended o whether the land was public or private and if there is electricity available.

Farrar asked how much the installation was going to cost and said, “We need to know.”

Farrar said, “My concern is what the whole cost is going to be.”

Councilman Glenn Miller stated, “We’re going to be in budget,” and stated he did not want to publically disclose how much it will cost while he is negotiating the installation cost with contractors.

Vice Mayor John Crane asked for a ballpark figure and asked, “Is it $10,000, $100,000 or $250,000?”

Miller stated, “We budgeted $340,000 for lighting. We’ll come in at or under.”

Farrar said it wasn’t their money but taxpayer money they were spending.

Councilwoman Melissa Price said, “I think we need to get these on order so I’d like to make a motion.”

Price’s motion passed by a vote of 6-1 with Farrar dissenting.

Council voted unanimously to approve spending $35,000, which included $5,000 contingency, to construct turning lanes and curb modifications associated with the gateways.

Neiss said there were substantial savings to the town to do this part of the project now by piggybacking on the bike lane project.

Miller stated he was really surprised at how much the savings were and said it would probably cost the town $80,000 otherwise.

During public comment, Peterson asked Van Allen if he wanted to speak or if he “gives up.”

Van Allen responded, “This piecemeal stuff … I give up.”

Council voted unanimously to approve the expenditure.