o maximize sales tax revenues to pay for Cave Creek’s expenses, the Carefree Highway Specific Area Plan (SAP) was amended to allow more access points for potential businesses in the future. It’s unknown what businesses will open on these parcels of land.
In a passionate meeting that lasted more than four hours, the Town Council voted 4-3 to approve this amendment, which adds three new traffic access points to the future commercial area, one on 48th Street, one on 49th Street as well as one in between.
The request for amendment was made by developer Stewart Jean, who wanted to allow increased access to the site. Jean also developed the nearby Sprouts Farmers Market across the highway.
Some Cave Creek residents, many of whom live in the surrounding neighborhood, Estado de Cholla, were not keen on the changes due to concerns about traffic and commotion from the potential commercial area. Over the summer, there were multiple neighborhood meetings held by citizens to discuss the matter.
A change.org petition called “Save the S.A.P/Protect the creek/Don’t Phoenix Cave Creek!!!” was made around three months ago to protest the amendment. It garnered around 900 signatures.
“The S.A.P. was developed as a means to protect the town and homeowners from high-density commercial development and intense vehicular traffic on Carefree Highway, 48th and 49th streets,” the petition reads. “The S.A.P. is a promise built on good faith between citizens, landowners and the town of Cave Creek.”
The SAP is a planned community tactic for the area located between 48th and 54th streets on the north side of Carefree Highway and is contained within the town’s general plan. It serves as a plan for those designated parcels of land near the highway so any specific uses would be appropriately located and integrated.
The SAP also defines standards for the architectural character of potential developments, including height and size as well as standards for uses, zoning, lighting, landscape and access. The access portion of the SAP was the main part that was impacted by the amendment.
Cave Creek Mayor Ernie Bunch said the socially distanced town council meeting was filled. He mentioned there were 20 emails received before the meeting, encouraging the council to vote against it. “People are resistant to change,” he said in an interview with The Foothills Focus.
“The rest of the people in the town of Cave Creek understand that that area, Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road and down through there, is the piggy bank that will support the needs of the community,” Bunch said, explaining who he was representing when he voted “yes.”
This business area will be good for the economic health of Cave Creek, considering the many expenses that the town must cover, Bunch said, mentioning the town’s dire need to develop fire protection and emergency services. “We’ve got millions of dollars of expenses coming up because of the fires.”
While the economic upsides were made clear, many still weren’t convinced.
“The proposal before you tonight could be described as merely an ornament to be hung on the already oversized development,” Cave Creek resident Richard Johnson said during the meeting before the item’s vote.
Johnson lives in Estado de Cholla and voiced concerns that the development density will be greater in this area than in many large commercial projects along the Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road intersection.
“To those of us in southern neighborhoods who have placed importance to the SAP, our zoning ordinance and the processes leading up to both, all of this seems a little like a sucker punch,” Johnson said.
“I believe the town needs to reset from pedal-to-the-metal tax growth policy and density transfers that devalue our zoning classifications,” he added.
In the previous town council meeting, the item was defeated 5-2 because the developer was asking for two entrances on 48th Street, two on 49th as well as the mid-block, Bunch said. After the town council’s break, one of the members who had voted against it asked for the item to be reconsidered.
Because of that, residents accused the council of illegal activity, Bunch said, adding that this course of action is completely legal.
Residents were extremely upset after the final vote was cast, he said. “Oh my gosh, I hate having all those people angry. I really do.”
It’s a waiting game to see whether residents come together to do a referendum, he said.
“If they were successful in getting the signatures for a referendum, all it would do is slow down what’s inevitable,” he said. “Then there wouldn’t be much choice about what actually went in there.”
Jean, the developer, was present during the meeting and heard the copious amounts of public comments from passionate residents. He noted that he respected everyone’s concerns and opinions but wanted to assure them that whatever is developed will be in compliance with what’s already been approved by the neighbors and the town.
“We’re only here today trying to get a couple of curb cuts to make this project work and remind everybody that we’ve still got a long way to go in design and development,” he said.
The development will be built in compliance with the codes, percentages of coverage as well as landscaping, he added.
“We’re not going to run outside of the boundaries, we haven’t in all the other projects and we’re not going to do it on this one.”