By Jason Stone, INDEPENDENT NEWSMEDIA
Surprise officials say development north of the city is inevitable, whether it’s Surprise, Maricopa County or even Peoria doing it.
Opponents of the growth in the area say that’s not the case, and they now have legal counsel to help fight it.
The annexation battle for the Marisol Ranch and Lone Mountain Ranch developments northeast of 163rd Avenue and Dixileta Drive reheated this week with the City Council voting on their rezoning at its regular meeting Tuesday, June 18.
It’s not really a new fight for a growing city. It’s the age-old battle of “keeping things the way they are” versus cities needing development to help their budgets.
The sides are clear in Surprise’s case, too: The city needs the developments to collect the tax dollars that approximately 4,000 homes would bring in. The developers would also be responsible for widening 163rd Avenue, which is a major part of it.
Opponents of the projects, who say they’re not against development in general, say too many homes are going to mess up a whole way of living and it’s just not worth the money the city will make.
“We’re not anti-development,” said Jacqueline Carroll, who has been leading the charge against the annexation and two developments. “We never have been. But they’re changing the density of the entire area.”
Surprise Mayor Skip Hall said the city really doesn’t have a choice thanks to demographics.
“You’ve got to be aware if you’re in a growth area,” Mr. Hall said. “Maricopa County is the highest growth county in the country. What are we supposed to do, put access control gates on [Interstate] 40?
“People have to live somewhere.”
Ms. Carroll, who has frequently spoke out at City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, said she represents what she calls a “coalition” of residents who are trying to put the brakes on the city’s plans.
More than 1,600 people have signed a petition to stop it, although the names on it are questionable to some.
“She came up with a list of all these people, and a lot of these people don’t live in Surprise,” Mr. Hall said.
Ms. Carroll said her group plans to take legal action against the city and keep fighting it even if everything gets approved.
Ms. Carroll wouldn’t say who the group hired or who is paying for it, only revealing, “We already have attorneys working on it and an advocacy group.”
Mr. Hall said he wants the group to understand that if Surprise doesn’t do something with the land, Maricopa County is poised to move on it since it’s already zoned and ready for 1,833 lots.
Or, Mr. Hall said even Peoria could decide to annex the Marisol Ranch area and reap the financial benefits that go along with it.
“They probably would down the road,” Mr. Hall said of Peoria. “We butt up against Peoria up there. It’s in the county now. Marisol Ranch has entitlements in the county.”
Surprise needs to annex Lone Mountain Ranch, which is just to south, in order to take the Marisol Ranch land.
“One of the conditions of annexation is it has to be contiguous,” Mr. Hall said. “Right now, Marisol Ranch is not. The landowners of Marisol Ranch want to be part of Surprise.”
Pushing it through
Ms. Carroll said her main problem is how she feels the City Council and city staff are conducting quiet meetings to hopefully push the projects through with as little resistance as possible.
“The city staff is so deep in the pockets of the developers, it’s a wonder they don’t all get a wedgie,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that to the City Council at a meeting because that’s disrespectful. But come on.
“This is everything you hear about big government walking over the rights of the residents and letting the developers clear house.”
In May, Ms. Carroll complained about a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing that was improperly advertised and was able to get the commission to delay the hearing until this month.
It still didn’t matter as the P&Z board voted 5-2 to accept rezoning changes to both Marisol Ranch and Lone Mountain Ranch projects.
“They don’t care about lifestyle,” Ms. Carroll said. “They don’t care about the residents there. They don’t care about infrastructure. They just care about getting the 163rd Avenue core to go all the way up to the [Highway] 74.”
Mr. Hall said he feels confident the city is in a good legal standing and isn’t worried about Ms. Carroll’s threats.
“[A lawsuit] might delay things, but I don’t really think it will be a problem,” Mr. Hall said.
The mayor has also said he’s worried that not allowing the development opens the city up to lawsuits the other way because of the rights of the current property owners.
Continuing the fight
The relationship between Mr. Hall and Ms. Carroll has become personal in the last few weeks. Ms. Carroll said the mayor was rude when an open mic caught him at a meeting saying, “Oh boy, here we go,” when she came up to speak.
“I’m not the most popular person, and I don’t care,” said Ms. Carroll, who added she recognizes she’s not the mayor’s favorite fan.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Ms. Carroll said.
Mr. Hall said that’s not going to stop the city.
“We’re just going to forge ahead,” Mr. Hall said.