By Linda Bentley | March 23, 2016

Meritage Homes project nixed for Cave Creek

Scoffing at the description of Cave Creek being a Western town, Spence said, ‘Cave Creek is an outlaw town, get it right’

CAVE CREEK – During Monday night’s Call to the Public, Kerry Smith said there was an omission from the March 7 minutes, regarding concerns involving the Water Advisory Committee raised by Councilman Thomas McGuire, that he believed should be included.

Councilwoman Susan Clancy moved to reconsider their vote approving the minutes, which passed unanimously.

As McGuire attempted to recall what he said, Town Attorney Bill Sims suggested rather than have McGuire try to recall what he said to table the item until Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek can listen to the recording.

Council voted unanimously to table the item.

As he introduced the first general agenda item, Mayor Vincent Francia made it clear the only thing before council was whether to rezone two parcels from Desert Rural (DR-89) to Commercial Buffer (CB) zoning.

Planning Director Ian Cordwell provided council with a brief background on the application by Meritage Homes for 56 homes on approximately 12 acres located within the Specific Area Plan (SAP) just north of the northwest corner of Carefree Highway and 54th Street.

Greg Davis

Cordwell pointed out the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend denial for the rezoning and turned the presentation over to Greg Davis, consultant for Meritage Homes.

Davis said Meritage is an Arizona company that’s been in the Valley since 1985 and has built a reputation for building energy efficient homes.

While the application was for a change to CB zoning, Davis said they found the project could also be accomplished under Multi-family Residential (MR) zoning and stated Meritage would be willing to accept the less intense MR zoning.

Davis said 56 units was the minimum number of units Meritage decided on to make the project work and stated the project would have a pool and clubhouse, amenities usually only found in a 200-unit community.

The units range in size from 1,700 to 2,700 square feet and, according to Davis, the project benefits the town by providing a “sustainable land use transition from the Lowe’s/McDonald’s to the existing low-density properties.”

Davis said there was generally positive feedback for the project at both the community and planning commission meetings.

In order to address the zoning concerns raised by neighbors during the planning commission meeting, Davis said Meritage was willing to request MR zoning instead of CB and agree to a stipulation that if for some reason the project did not move forward as planned the property would revert back to its original DR zoning designation.

Councilman Dick Esser questioned the need for 56 units to make the project work.

Davis responded by saying losing one or two units might not kill the project but this was the number they felt was necessary.

Cordwell briefly explained the SAP overlay and that it would allow for rezoning no more intense than CB.

Steve Orgel

During public comment, Steve Orgel said he made extensive remarks during the planning commission meeting in opposition to the project and took issue with the comment Davis made indicating there was generally positive feedback.

Orgel stated, “There was not any measurable support for this project …”

He asked council to consider what the project would mean going forward by allowing 4.5 to 5 homes per acre and how it would change the character of the town and the current desert rural lifestyle.

Orgel urged council to deny the rezoning application.

Kurt Mattson

Kurt Mattson stated he was against high-density housing developments.

He said, “People come here because we’re Western not eclectic.”

Mattson said he wasn’t against progress but stated, “We want the right kind of progress.”

He told council they were the gatekeepers and urged them to think about the long-term ramifications.

Cheryle Carmitchel pointed out the parcels are located beyond the two-acres along Carefree Highway and said the SAP is not a zoning change but an overlay.

Although she praised Meritage Homes for their quality, Carmitchel said, “Obviously what’s at stake is one home per acre.”

She asked council not to approve the CB zoning and expressed concerns about conditional rezoning.

Linda Redwood-Martinez

Linda Redwood-Martinez stated Cave Creek is a polite town and suggested that might be why Meritage was under the impression citizens were not opposed to the project.

She talked about how rezoning in Phoenix ruined the neighborhood she lived in for 30 years.

Even though Redwood-Martinez lives up Spur Cross Road, a good distance from the project, she said she was there to support her neighbors and asked council to support the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation against the rezoning.

Eileen Wright

Eileen Wright read a statement made by Vincent Francia and urged council to vote against the rezoning.

She said, “We do not want the cowboy to fade off into the sunset.”

Kerry Smith spoke about the value of property based on the average size of neighboring properties.

He said Meritage was a wonderful developer but noted, according to Zillow, the foreclosure rate in Cave Creek is twice that of neighboring communities.

He also questioned whether the town would be able to provide water to an additional 120 people in that area.

Kathy Greene said she was opposed to the CB zoning.

Suzanne Deffenbaugh told council she sincerely hoped they would echo the unanimous vote of the planning commission and pointed out citizens spoke from all over the community in opposition.

She said the requested CB zoning “opens the door to so many possibilities, which many of the neighbors would not welcome with outstretched arms.”

Andrew Fowler said he lived on Dove Valley Road in Cave Creek and was there to lend his support for the project.

Steve Knotts said he too supported the project and didn’t see how it would impact neighbors.

Lois Knotts said she supported the project, which she said would beautify the neighborhood.

Jo Long

Jo Long, who owns one of the parcels Meritage was purchasing contingent upon obtaining their rezoning request, said people complain about her horse ranch, the horse poop, flies and dust.

Long said if council approved the rezoning it will eliminate those problems.

She said, “If you turn this down, who else will develop this property?”

Long also claimed the project will generate sales tax to help the town pay down its debt.

Mr. and Mrs. Reid Stewart, who own the other parcel in escrow with Meritage contingent upon the rezoning, also expressed support for the rezoning.

Larry Pace stated he was speaking on behalf of the “Cave Creek South 40” and, after naming a number of his neighbors, said, “We are 100 percent opposed. This type of project doesn’t belong in Cave Creek.

David Farmer and Jeffery Hadley both expressed support for the rezoning.

Tim Spence, who lives adjacent to the proposed Meritage project, said he grew up here and has lived there since 1968.

Scoffing at the description of Cave Creek being a Western town, Spence said, “Cave Creek is an outlaw town, get it right.”

Spence said he supported the rezoning and stated it would “at least get rid of the problem to the north of me.”

Dennis Coleman said it would be nice to make the problem with flies go away as the horse ranch has been a nuisance property.

However, he said the CB zoning concerned him and stated, “Fifty-six homes is a lot.”

Lisa Blood, who recently moved to Cave Creek from Chandler, said, “The people who live on El Sendero Drive are not in favor of this.”

Art Robertson, another El Sendero Drive resident, stated the rezoning would be a detriment to the community and pointed out the majority of the people who spoke in support of the rezoning were not property owners.

Francia said they heard from 21 speakers with 12 against and nine in support.

Council began discussion after a motion was made to approve the rezoning.

Councilman Mark Lipsky said he thought the SAP was entirely inappropriate for the parcels and stated, “All we can do is make the best of a bad situation.”

Clancy asked what the difference was between CB and MR.

Cordwell explained MR was a lesser category that only allowed multi-family residential use rather than the various uses allowed under CB.

Councilman Ernie Bunch said, “These folks in the El Sendero neighborhood deserve something better,” and stated he was not going to support the rezoning.

Esser stated, “I don’t see that corner as horse property but it’s pretty clear folks are upset.”

Francia said there are long-standing issues regarding the use of horses next to people who don’t own horses.

Council voted unanimously against the rezoning.

Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution directing the town manager to support the Desert Foothills Mountain Bike Association in its application for a grant from REI for $7,500 for the development of Phase One of the town’s Gateway Trailhead.

The town’s trails coordinator, Bambi Muller, said the grant would be a start in the trail’s development, which begins at Carefree Highway next to the town’s wastewater treatment plant, and would provide a large parking area for those who wish to use the trail.

Vice Mayor Steve LaMar said, “This is exactly what we should be doing.”

Town Manager Peter Jankowski asked council to pass a resolution authorizing a one-time waiver of the town’s $3 ticket surcharge fee for the Desert Foothills Community Association, Cave Creek Pro Rodeo to be held next month.

Jankowski explained the failure to charge the $3 surcharge, which is supposed to go to the town for maintenance and upkeep of the rodeo grounds, was due to poor communication.

Rather than force the rodeo to deduct $3 per ticket to pay to the town, Jankowski was asking council to waive the fee this year.

When LaMar asked if communications have since improved, Jankowski said they were still working on it and claimed the nonprofit organization, made up primarily of volunteers, doesn’t respond to calls in a timely manner.

LaMar suggested in the future that Jankowski put all communications in writing so there is no misunderstanding.

Bunch, who moved to approve the resolution, said he was not real happy about the situation but stated the rodeo must go on.

LaMar confirmed this was a one-year problem with a one-time waiver.