Cave Creek residents petitioned and submitted a formal letter of opposition to the town council in response to the recommendation of approval for six exception requests to the subdivision ordinance for the development of a subdivision in the Hidden Valley area.
Some of the six exceptions are regarding flag lots, private roads, grading and draining guidelines, street blocks and cul-de-sac streets. Under the current subdivision ordinance, flag lots and private roads are prohibited.
The property is generally located west of North Cave Creek Road between East Surrey Drive and East Skyline Drive. It was purchased in 2014 by an undisclosed California resident, spans 76 acres and is set to become a housing development with 48 units. Nearby residents like Anna Marsolo are not only concerned about the impact of these exceptions but also upset that the subdivision ordinance approved by voters just three months ago is being ignored.
“It’s disappointing that staff would recommend approval considering the 2-to-1 citizen vote in favor of the general plan, which incorporates the subdivision ordinance,” Marsolo said.
After hearing that these requests were being recommended for approval, Marsolo and several others took action. She drafted a formal letter of opposition that was posted publicly online and later submitted to city hall. In addition, she and four other women collected signatures from Cave Creek residents who agreed with the opposition latter. Marsolo had 74 signatures as of Sept. 9 and said she was hoping with everyone combined they could get over 150.
The town will have a planning commission hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Cave Creek Town Hall to inform the town of the development plans as well as take public comments and recommendations.
Besides the general disappointment in the planning department, residents have concerns about fire safety, keeping their mountain views, protecting natural resources, a domino effect and the invalidity of the requests.
“Setting a precedent of gutting our subdivision ordinance would create such a slippery slope. Subsequent applications will use this case to seek their own adjustments, opening up our whole town to subdivisions largely swallowed up by exceptions,” Marsolo said.
Planning Director Luke Kautzman said the majority of the requests are due to the nature of the rocky, mountainous terrain of the land that makes it difficult to develop. However, Marsolo said the buyer bought the land years ago, under the same zoning and restrictions that are in place today. Therefore, she said complaints about the terrain are illegitimate, because, essentially, the buyer should have recognized this beforehand.
“He can put fewer homes on what land he has, without these exceptions, make them high-end homes with maybe more square footage, amenities and leaving the whole top part of that beautiful mountain intact would be a great incentive for a buyer. But, he just wants to make a killing instead of a nice, handsome profit.”
However, Kautzman said there is a significant misunderstanding of the requests and a lot of misinformation as well. Firstly, Kautzman emphasized that all property owners have the right to due process, meaning they can request whatever they want. Secondly, he said negotiations about developing these 76 acres have taken place since 2007, and the new plan being discussed is an improvement and the best-case scenario, contrary to public belief. One of the complaints addressed in the opposition letter was the 63 homes on the property, but Kautzman said that was a previous plan that has since been changed to 48 homes.
“This land was entitled with 63 lots back in 2007,” he said. “So, they’re actually reducing the amount of land that they’re asking to have divided because of the terrain. They could do 63 lots and develop that land with even more densely populated development and not ask for any exceptions. The general plan allows a density range of one dwelling unit per 1.24 acres, and what they’re asking for is almost half a dwelling unit per acre, well below what they’re entitled to, based on the general plan, the land and the zoning.”
As for the flag lots and private roads, Kautzman said the proposed plan would preserve more of the natural land by decreasing the number of paved roads and keep trails accessible to the community. The 2007 plan did not have any public open space, and the new plan will dedicate 27 acres for public space. In terms of fire safety, the proposed private streets would have extra wide cul-de-sacs to allow emergency vehicles adequate turnaround and space for a fire apparatus. Kautzman said all the department heads, utilities manager, town engineer, building and fire safety officials, and trails coordinator have been involved in this project, ensuring it is completed in the best way for the town.
“We’ve been looking at this property for close to 20 years, and I think this plan is probably the best iteration that we’ve seen as far as sensitivity to the desert, the terrain and also giving public access for trails and other things. So, I’m not quite sure what the alarm is.”