City, state plans at odds over South Mountain 620
This is the final article in a three-part series focusing
on the issues surrounding the state trust land parcel named South
Mountain 620. Today's article examines possible outcomes for
By Doug Murphy Staff Writer
For the last two years the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning
Committee, supported by Phoenix city councilman Greg Stanton,
has looked for a way to preserve the entire 620 acres of state
trust land west of 19th Avenue as open space, or at the least,
reduce the number of homes allowed on the land.
But for state Land Commissioner Mike Anable, who has a fiduciary
responsibility to manage state trust land for the greatest return
possible, efforts to cut the number of homes are "more emotion
based land use planning than economic based land use planning."
Mike Foster, of the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee
and a leader in the effort to cut the number of rooftops allowed
on the parcel, disagrees with Anable's position.
"Economics is just one factor in land use planning. He's
casting it that it's the only factor," he said.
For residents, Anable's insistence on auctioning the land
to a developer is frustrating.
For Anable, opposition to sale of the trust land is frustrating.
Growth marches on
"I think this piece of property, because it is trust
land, is being looked at differently by the community and they
are seeking to try and correct some of the planning deficiencies
that have happened in Ahwatukee Foothills all on this piece of
property," Anable said.
Besides, he points out, "Phoenix has issued 600 building
permits a year for the last three years or four years in The
Foothills. During that period of time I have held this property
off the market they have issued that many or more home permits
From June 1993 to June 1999, Phoenix Planning Department records
indicate that in all of Ahwatukee Foothills, 10,288 building
permits were issued. The population also grew from an estimated
43,821 in 1993 to 75,961 in 2000.
The city of Phoenix is in the process of rezoning and changing
the land use designation on the South Mountain 620, bordered
by 19th Avenue on the east, 27th Avenue on the west, South Mountain
to the north and the Pecos Road alignment to the south.
If approved by the Phoenix City Council there would be no
homes north of Chandler Boulevard's future alignment. The land
would be home to no more than 1,493 houses, a 240-acre preserve
and park, a 70-acre site school site and 26 acres of commercial
land to service the area.
The city's plan would cut the number of allowable homes from
a maximum of 2,400, approved by the council in 1993 to a cap
In March, voters approved up to $10 million in bond money
specifically for purchase of state trust land in Ahwatukee Foothills
which can be used to help reimburse either the state Land Department
or a developer who must turn land over to the city.
The state Land Department wants between 2,267 homes and 1,144
homes constructed depending on how much land the city purchases.
The land commissioner wants at least 137 homes and up to 374
homes to be allowed north of Chandler Boulevard, 12 acres be
set aside for a school with the possibility of purchasing up
to 58 additional acres.
If Phoenix purchases up to 130 acres north of Chandler Boulevard
and buys the extra acreage for the larger school site and pays
for a 40-acre park and library site, Anable says the land would
hold only 1,144 units, less than the city proposes.
"If you cram 1,400 units south of Chandler Boulevard
you will diminish the value significantly," said Anable,
who insists that his plan takes into account the wishes of the
community while maintaining the $60 million to $65 million value
that he says the land is worth.
"Higher density may not be bad," counters Laurel
Arndt, who lives nearby.
She has a master's degree in urban planning and serves on
the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee. It was her
subcommittee that came up with the plan that eliminated homes
north of Chandler Boulevard.
"Yes we do increase our density, but the benefit to the
whole is much greater with more open space and access to South
Mountain," she explained.
Higher density reduces urban sprawl and makes delivery of
services more efficient, she said.
What is best?
"What is best and what is legally appropriate are two
different things," laughed Rob Melnick, director of the
Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.
"There can be a wide variety of answers to what's best
because it's a value judgment," he said.
Open space, like what the city and the local planning committee
propose north of where Chandler Boulevard will go can create
"up-value," said Melnick, explaining that open space
increases the value of surrounding land.
On the other hand, selling to a developer to build homes generates
a large amount of money for the trust which some school districts
might argue is best.
But in the case of trust land, what is best is clearly defined
in the 1910 Enabling Act, which provided the trust land at statehood.
It says, in part, that "No lands shall be sold for less
than their appraised value..."
Phoenix, using an appraiser from the land department's approved
list of appraisers says the land is worth $50.8 million under
the Phoenix plan. Anable says that under his plan the land is
worth between $60 million and $65 million.
For Melnick, the issue is bigger than the 620 acres.
To not sell the state land for the maximum amount possible
would require some constitutional changes. Last year there were
competing propositions that would have made major changes to
how Arizona urban areas grew, but both proposals -- Proposition
100 supported by Gov. Jane Hull and Proposition 202 supported
by the Sierra Club -- failed at the polls.
According to Melnick the two sides have begun discussions
in preparation for next year's election.
In 2000, both sides spent large sums of money promoting their
proposition and blasting the opponents' plans.
"They want to avoid a problem like that in the future,"
said Melnick, explaining that another battle like last year's
would be devastating to all sides.
Auction or court
Anable told the city in an April letter to Mayor Skip Rimsza
that he will take the city to court to protect the value of the
land if efforts to create the 240 acres of open space and 70-acre
school site continue.
On May 9, the Phoenix Planning Commission approved the city's
plan, despite assistant attorney general Mary Grier reminding
the commission that any change would be "contrary to law."
"If we don't reach some kind of accommodation, it will
get difficult to sell it," Anable said before the commission's
Doug Murphy can be reached at (480) 496-0665 or by e-mail