Scheier: legal nuances of Wolf Springs rezoning case not in article

The Scottsdale Independent reporter, Mr. Josh Martinez, paints a rosy picture of city council voting in support of the Wolf Springs Ranch rezoning request to convert a 20-acre equestrian ranch into a high density home development.

Dr. Lawrence M. Scheier

Unfortunately, this rezoning request was not a simple matter and the news coverage misses several key points. To begin, his report failed to address whether the developer actually owns all of the property in their site plan.

Also, using sleight-of-hand, the city required a single gated community to have two entries, without fully backing the second access gate with traffic impact analysis, written policy supporting multiple gate access or any comparable home developments to strengthen their position.

As part of their rezoning request, the developer negotiated with the local neighborhood task force over a period of 18 months. A partner in this effort was the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to supporting measured neighborhood growth. The mission of COGS is to protect the interests of homeowners striving to maintain the pristine, bucolic environment they call “home.” These negotiations successfully drove the proposed number of homes at the northwest corner of 94th Street and Cactus Road from 78 to 40 homes. However, not reported is the fact that the Developer proposed a roadway extension on Larkspur Road running along the northern border of their project.

This will allow new residents of Wolf Springs to circuitously access 94th Street.

The HOA Board of Sweetwater Estates II challenged whether the developer owns the land along the proposed extension. The “right of way” was initially a 33-foot, federal GLO easement administered by the city of Scottsdale. In 1986 the city abandoned the right-of-way of roadway because of potential liability. In 2014 they followed this action by releasing the drainage and public utility easement, a portion of which runs on top of the right-of-way.

What happens when the city abandons property? It reverts to the previous owners of record, in this case the plat map shows that 25 feet of land proposed for the roadway extension belongs to the Sweetwater Ranch Estates II Homeowner’s Association (this is recorded in the Maricopa County plat map). Thus, the land in question is contested dirt, with a resolution of ownership now headed to the courts.

Second, missing from the Scottsdale Independent story is how the developer furtively usurped the drainage easement behind four Sweetwater Estates II homes bordering their land purchase. This “land grab” was revealed as part of a privately negotiated agreement with the homeowners sharing this easement. Two legal issues come to mind here. First, Arizona law prohibits alienating or “cleaving” an easement, which “rolls with the land” as part of ownership. Second, the homeowners are going to be shocked when they find they have violated their CC&Rs and cannot “subdivide” their land for any reason, intended street or otherwise. So the Larkspur Road extension cannot be built. Existing neighbors would no doubt support using the easement as a lush dog park, acting as a barrier between developments.

Third, the city’s transportation department has now introduced a new planning regulation to include multiple access gates. Unfortunately, their decision is unsupported by written and approved policy. The city transportation engineer stated on record that all new developments will require multiple access gates, but numerous examples of existing and proposed developments with more than 40 homes and only one access — as in the Wolf Springs project — were shown to the city council by public speakers at the rezoning hearing. Representatives of several task forces speaking on behalf of neighborhood coalitions vocally supported that a single access gate on 94th Street should be sufficient.

To wit, the city has never conducted a legitimate study quantifying access points for existing and proposed developments. In essence, the city lacks teeth to back up its claim, and yet it poses a new development directive, without legal authority, making their ruling capricious and whimsical at best. Lacking in any of the city’s responses is hard facts supporting the need for multiple access gates.

Needed to support their case are traffic pattern analyses including simulations of future traffic patterns that will occur when nearby equestrian properties are also sold for development. More importantly, the Scottsdale Fire Chief was “silent” with regard to defending the need for emergency access gates. Here an argument could be made to facilitate “response time” a gate on Cactus Road would be more prudent.

The major point to come from all these deliberations is that city council should be required to present legitimate, credible data that can support their votes on projects that affect multiple subdivisions. Continuing to approve development after development without examining the downstream impact of new growth is surely to result in overgrowth, too much concrete, density beyond belief, and traffic resulting in more accidents, and more lives unnecessarily lost. What we all want is to live in a neighborhood that retains its equestrian charm.

Unbridled growth in Scottsdale will be detrimental to all facets of our lives and have an adverse impact on the place we call home.

Editor’s note: Dr. Scheier is president of LARS Research Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to studying drug abuse, violence and health promotion among youth. He can be reached at scheier@larsri.org.

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