Scottsdale citizen petition to stop concrete path in Preserve turned down

A concrete shared-use path to be laid within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve has some in north Scottsdale calling the effort into question. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Scottsdale City Council, by a measure of 4 to 3, denied a citizen petition Tuesday, April 4 that sought to have the Cactus Path — a stretch of dirt four-tenths of a mile long — removed from the 2016 transportation master plan.

Resident concerns were pinpointed to the proximity of the proposed shared-use path to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as the area of question abuts the Sonoran Heights housing community in north Scottsdale.

The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses 30,000 acres of land within the rough boundaries of the Pima Road alignment to the west, McDowell Mountain Regional Park to the east, Stagecoach Road to the north and Via Linda Road alignment to the south.

Sonoran Heights is a collection of 263 homes at Via Linda Road and 126th Street in north Scottsdale.
Residents say creating leniencies for construction projects within protected lands could set a dangerous precedent while city officials contend the idea of the shared-use path has been on the books since 1991 and predates both the residents of the area and the beloved lands of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Scottsdale City Council members Kathy Littlefield, David Smith and Guy Phillips voted to have the citizen petition honored while members Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte, Linda Milhaven and Mayor Jim Lane voted to deny the petition.

“This is a relatively involved topic,” said Scottsdale Transportation Director Paul Basha during the April 4 public hearing.

“It is essentially a sidewalk. Some people want to use concrete, some people want to use gravel — we believe that this four-tenths of a mile ought to be concrete. In Scottsdale we believe a path is concrete and a trail is gravel.”

A view of Anasazi Elementary School in north Scottsdale. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The history of this four-tenths of a mile of sidewalk involves an intergovernmental agreement between the city of Scottsdale and the Scottsdale Unified School District meant to share the cost of street improvements and the construction of a roundabout at Anasazi Elementary School, 12121 N. 124th St.

While the 2014 IGA included improvements to Mountainside Middle School and Desert Mountain High School it also entailed the design of the Cactus Path, which is listed in the transportation master plan as a project of the lowest priority.

Leading up to the April public hearing regarding the citizen petition both the Scottsdale Paths & Trails Subcommittee and Transportation Commission unanimously voted to retain the Cactus Path in the transportation master plan.

Mr. Basha points out there is a half-road along the Cactus Road right of way in the area where the concrete path will eventually be constructed.

“We do know that pedestrian fatalities occur and it is our responsibility to prevent collisions and fatalities,” he said of the one of the benefits of a concrete path along the Cactus Road right of way. “That is one of the reasons we are suggesting to you this concrete paved path.”

When Scottsdale Councilman David Smith asked Mr. Basha directly if this four-tenths of a mile will prevent fatalities, Mr. Basha replied, “No one single path in the city is the most important path, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

When Mayor Jim Lane asked directly if the concrete path would be built within Preserve boundaries, Mr. Basha pointed out the myriad history of the Cactus Path and the fact the idea had been on municipal minds since the early 1990s.

“We are recommending that, yes, the shared-use path be constructed in the Preserve for this one-block length,” he said.

“We have several concrete paths in the Preserve — this would not be the first. Our idea is to leave the half street as is, leave the utilities as is and construct a sidewalk.”

Resident frustrations

Residents who live in Sonoran Heights came to City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., to express concerns ranging from accusations of outright dishonesty to a lack of legitimate concern for public input.

“With respect, Mr. Basha pretty much wore me out tonight. It has been a very long and frustrating wait for us to get here and that has been pretty typical,” said Dan Hart, Sonoran Heights HOA president at the April 4 public hearing.

“We have done our best to express our reasons for resisting this path. And the list is long. The local city government supposedly is interested in taking public opinion, but it has been a very frustrating process for us. We feel like we have been misled and at least put off.”

Mr. Hart says his experience trying to find a solution to resident concerns of the proposed project fall on deaf ears.

“It got to points that it was hard believe this was happening from our own government when all we were trying to do was express our concerns,” he said. “You will not gain anything by having the path there.”

Three Heights residents — on borrowed time from other members of the community — spoke out against the Cactus Path project.

Scottsdale Transportation Commission Chairman Paul Holley offered a different perspective noting the Cactus Path has been an integral part of the transportation master plan.

“There are four key arguments that support the fact this should be retained in the transportation master plan and that construction should start as soon as possible,” he said pointing out connectivity, the length of time the project has been on the books and the idea the path may increase usage of the existing dirt path.

“The Cactus path has remained an integral part of the most recent transportation master plan update.”

Where the concrete meets the dirt that leads to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on the north side of both the Anasazi Elementary School and Sonoran Heights community. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Precedent setting?

Scottsdale Preserve Director Kroy Ekblaw points out the location of the proposed construction is within an area on the borderline of the Preserve refereed to as “disturbed area.”

“We were suggesting to keep the path within the disturbed areas would be most favorable,” he said during the public hearing.

“As this concept evolved short of two years ago we presented this to the Preserve Commission. General direction to the Commission, we didn’t have a final design at that time, but the idea was to keep it in that defined area. Location of the path within the disturbance area would be the most practical.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield says any kind of construction within Preserve boundaries is a dangerous proposition in her eyes.

“I do not approve or want to put this path, a concrete path, inside the boundaries of the Preserve,” she said at the public hearing. “Aside from the path is good, bad or indifferent I believe this sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Councilwoman Littlefield points out capital dollars are scarce at the city of Scottsdale.

“I would much prefer to build things our citizens want and need in Scottsdale rather than something that’s a low priority item that is a nice to have,” she said. “I don’t think this fits in the context of our financial affairs of the moment.”

Councilman Smith echoed a similar sentiment.

“I am very concerned we are in any manner rationalizing putting a strip of concrete into the Preserve,” he said at the public hearing. “If we open Pandora’s box to why we can lay concrete in a portion of the Preserve we will have let the genie out of the bottle so to speak. A lot of what I am hearing is ‘build it and they will come.’”

The existing trail that will become the Cactus Path per the 2016 transportation master plan. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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