Guest Editorial

Les Peterson, Mayor of Carefree  |  February 10, 2016

Three issues currently facing Carefree

Perhaps it’s the political season we are in, but a lot of misinformation and truth-twisting about Carefree is floating around town these days.  I’d like to set the record straight on three issues that have cropped up in local media.

Bike Lanes:  The bike lane projects along Tom Darlington, Cave Creek and Pima Roads are being undertaken for the safety of the increasing number of bicycle riders traveling through our area.  Critics complained that the cyclists don’t generate enough extra business in our town to justify the expense. But safety is the primary objective – not economic development. The town has a legal obligation to provide for the safe use of its public roadways. To do otherwise would expose the town and its residents to financial liability in the event of an accident.

Other people have inquired about the impact of the landscaping in the medians after the project is completed. Keep in mind that Carefree only removed six plants from its medians, so a high percentage of our existing median vegetation will remain. We have recently been discussing various landscaping options to supplement this existing vegetation, and I will be supporting a full landscaping package for these medians.

Critics have also complained about the timing of the construction project.  We certainly would have preferred a July-September schedule. But the federal government is reimbursing Carefree for 94% of the construction costs to help make our roadways safer for all. Because of this, the project was placed under the supervision of the Arizona Department of Transportation. They determined the final construction schedule.  We think everyone can agree that was a very worthwhile trade-off for the town. 

Commercial Building Heights: The suggestion the Planning and Zoning Commission or Town Council were considering permitting building heights up to 70 feet is total balderdash.  Here’s some background on what really is being considered.

Virtually all the existing commercial buildings in downtown Carefree were built when the zoning code permitted 30-foot-high structures. About 12 years ago, however, the Carefree commercial height restriction was reduced to 24 feet to match the residential code. Since then, we have had very little new commercial construction. Developers and other knowledgeable people have told us the current height restriction - lower than virtually all other communities in our trading area - is a primary reason for lack of development. 

So P&Z and the Carefree Town Council are considering whether it would be advantageous to the town and its residents to modestly increase the permitted commercial height in downtown from the current growth-stifling 24 feet, perhaps back to the previous 30-feet level.  They also are looking at what other towns have done in permitting some growth slightly above 30 feet, but requiring “form based zoning,” which specifies architectural elements that would preserve the appearance and “feel” of downtown. 

The January 11, 2016 Planning & Zoning workshop was a third in a series of open public workshops that illustrated how other towns have managed the height situation and engaged our residents in a dialogue on the subject.  We urge participation and a vetting of ideas between the residents and feel that’s part of being a transparent government when we can have healthy and educated conversations. It surfaced during these conversations some residents were under the impression we were focusing on a 70 ft. building in downtown. Rest assured, no one I know is contemplating any 70-foot building in downtown Carefree.

Boutique HotelThe idea of a boutique hotel at 100 Easy Street did not originate with the Carefree Town Council or the P&Z Commission. It came from current experienced boutique hotel developers who contacted the property owner. They had completed their independent preliminary market studies, which confirmed to them a unique boutique hotel in downtown Carefree could be successful. These developers are also deep into developing other properties, however, so moving forward in Carefree could well depend upon how fast their other developments proceed and the stage of the national economic cycle when the Carefree option rises to the top of their projects.  

We don’t know if there will ever be a boutique hotel on the property, but if not, there are other options for this land under consideration by developers.

But this, and the other issues I’ve cited, are good examples of the damage that biased viewpoints and manufactured “facts” can do to our efforts to help make Carefree even better for our residents and achieve economic progress.  Rather than fighting these skirmishes, we much rather would be discussing and sharing our perspectives with one another in open and constructive forums. This is how transparent government works.

With that objective, Vice Mayor John Crane and I will be meeting with HOAs and groups of residents in Carefree this spring. Our objective will be to explain our progress and to include the residents who want to have healthy discussion and get their questions answered about anything on their minds. We are looking forward to providing information and working together to make Carefree the place which all of us are proud to call home.

If you would like to schedule a visit by Mayor Peterson and Vice Mayor Crane to your HOA or group, please contact Carefree Town Hall at 480-488-3686.