A plan to build 5,000 homes north of Surprise was sent back for review by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
One role of local planning and zoning commissions in Arizona is to recommend approval or disapproval of development applications to governing bodies.
Developers and landowners can still apply to the governing body for approval — even with an overwhelming recommendation of disapproval.
That’s what developers for Santa Barbara Ranch, a development between U.S. 60 and State Route 74 in the Morristown area between Surprise and Wickenburg, sought Wednesday from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The board decided to remand the application for amendment back to the county’s planning and zoning commission for further review.
At its Nov. 14, 2021, meeting, the commission recommended denial of the Santa Barbara Ranch application by a 5-1 vote. The project, which had one letter of support and 53 documents of opposition, had a proposed maximum density of five duplex units per acre.
The board then decided in December to table a hearing and vote on the project, at the urging of Supervisor Clint Hickman, due partly to the proposed development’s distance from the nearest first responders.
Though developers returned to the board Wednesday with a scaled-down, modified plan, the issues were still too vast and concerning for Hickman and the three other board members present. The board voted unanimously to send the project back to the planning and zoning commission.
The 1,000-acre property is about four miles from the Surprise city limits, putting it at the outer limits of reach of the nearest municipal police and fire service, but also within Surprise’s planning area.
A number of concerns were raised Wednesday, even with the revised plan, which still has a maximum density of five units per acre. The developer made a few minor concessions, such as a maximum 5,000 total units and 150 acres devoted to open space.
Hickman said his concerns were numerous, and included the location in proximity to emergency services.
“I’ve talked until I’m blue about the [Maricopa County] Sheriff’s Office and all the areas of the county they and the cities have to cover,” Hickman told the applicant. “Water? We see what’s happening with Lake Mead. We get it. Let’s have the planning commission tackle some of these questions.”
Shirley Hamlin was one opponent of the plan who spoke Wednesday during the public hearing. She took the county and other governments to task not only for allowing a plan with “no redeeming value” to get to this stage, but also for recalcitrant development policies during the past 40 years.
“We don’t need another Del Webb, 1960s Sun City,” Hamlin said. “This project could be done much more densely and preserve much more of the desert out there.”
Another speaker said the prospect of five or six units per acre will lead to damage to delicate ecosystems by draining aquifers, and wells will run dry as has happened in other parts of the state.
That was accompanied by a request for approving only one home per acre in the community.
Also Wednesday, the board approved a consent agenda that includes a Glendale-area warehouse project with three buildings totaling 973,000 square feet.
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