courtesy of Libby Hall
Residents opposed to the planned development at New River Road and the I-17 are collecting signatures against it.
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‘Why can’t our voice be heard?’ Planned New River gas station/truck stop disputed at public meeting

ELIZABETH MEDORA~ 5/28/2014

NEW RIVER – It was standing room only at the Daisy Mountain Fire Station #141 on May 20. The county supervisor’s monthly meeting with the New River/Desert Hills community attracted so much attention that the meeting had to be moved into the firehouse garage to accommodate the number of attendees. The main issue was the planned development at the intersection of New River Road and the I-17.

In addition to Maricopa County District 3 Supervisor Andy Kunasek and New River/Desert Hills Community Association president Alan Muller, officials from the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Maricopa County Department of Transportation, and Maricopa County Planning and Development were on-hand to answer residents’ questions.

“Zoning is one of the most personal issues that affects your property and your property values,” said Kunasek, as he addressed residents’ concerns regarding the proposed development.

Kunasek offered clarification as to what the development plans are.

 “It is not their intention to run a truck stop, as I’ve been told,” he said. He noted that the plans he had seen included a gas station, a Subway, and a small convenience store.

Public commenters disagreed with this assessment of the development.

“A truck stop is a truck stop,” yelled out one attendee.

“Google the company,” added New River resident Terry Wild. “They do truck stops. Not gas stations.”

At the heart of the issue is the matter of zoning. The property has been zoned commercial since 1969, according to information shared at the May 20 meeting. A site plan was approved in 1996; the amendments for the debated development were submitted recently. Since the site has been approved as commercial property and is classified as C2 zoning, a gas station or truck stop would fit within the site’s zoning regulations.

“The site plan is an administrative process. They have the zoning. At some point, they’re going to come in for building purposes,” said Darren Gerard of Maricopa County Planning and Development.

Legally, neither the county nor the residents can keep the property from being developed commercially since it is zoned that way. Kunasek elaborated on this, noting that trying to force the owner to not develop the property would “deprive somebody of a use that they paid for.”

The only surefire way to control development of the land parcel would be to purchase it from the current owner; this option is, of course, cost-prohibitive.

Gerard noted that the proposed site plans had been sent to agencies (including the NR/DHCA) for courtesy reviews.

“They have a zoning entitlement,” Gerard explained. “It doesn’t go to public meeting.”

He added that the developer still has to come in for construction permits.

“No permits have been applied for,” said Gerard.

While the zoning prevents residents or the county from forcing the developer to change plans, residents are making their opinions known. Some are in favor of the development, noting that it will bring funds to the community and provide resources that aren’t currently available. Other residents are decidedly opposed. The New River Preservation Committee has started a petition to keep out a truck stop; signatures are being collected at the New River Mailbox.

The water situation still needs to be addressed. Since New River generally relies on wells for water, where the necessary water for new development will come from has been a point of contention.

“The developer still has to prove up that he has an adequate public water system before he can get occupancy,” Gerard noted. “There are also other construction issues they have to document.”

Another issue is increased traffic on the I-17, the New River freeway ramps, and New River Road itself.

“ADOT is interested in the project itself and will be working with the county,” said Rob Barnhart, ADOT. “We need to see further plans.”

Frustration was frequently expressed at the meeting because, as several residents said, they weren’t being given the opportunity to refuse the development.

“What I hear people saying is, ‘Why can’t our voice be heard?’” noted Mitch Wagner of MCDOT.

“America is a country of laws. Once laws are in place, we have to go by those laws. If we don’t allow the developer to develop the property as consistent with law, we as taxpayers will have to buy the property from the owner and pay for his damages.
The horse has already left the barn. It’s a situation that the zoning was already in place.”

Wagner added a caveat here regarding residents’ input.

“It would be prudent for the developer to try to provide as much information as possible. This promotes community support for a project.”

Supervisor Kunasek has committed to scheduling a public meeting with the developer. This meeting will likely be held at either New River Elementary School or Boulder Creek High School, depending on the number of participants. The meeting date will be published in The Foothills Focus when it is available.