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Transfer of development rights ordinance under consideration in Cave Creek


Tara Alatorre

CAVE CREEK – A new ordinance seeking approval from the Cave Creek Town Council would allow a transfer of development rights from commercial-zoned properties to a potential conservation easement, and is aimed at preserving Brenner Hill, utilizing a public and private partnership strategy.

According to the proposed ordinance, 02016-06, which unanimously passed a second reading at the town council meeting on July 18, Brenner Hill will become a privately-owned conservation easement, forever preserving open space in the town core. It also allows business owners to decrease the undisturbed land usage on their commercial properties, which is 15 to 20 percent, in exchange for purchasing portions or credits from the owner of the easement with the approval of town council.

“It is basically a private agreement, but the town council would have the final say in whether to allow it to take place,” said Cave Creek’s Planning Director, Ian Cordwell, in an interview.

In 2005, Brenner Hill, which is located in the heart of downtown directly behind Hogs N Horses Bar and the Buffalo Chip, was on the town’s wish list of open space, but it was privately owned and zoned residential so it was taken out of the revised general plan, Cordwell said.

“It preserves the open space where the town wants it through private ownership,” he said. “Ultimately we would like to see that resound to open space or recreational open space with the owner’s permission.”

However, many residents have been suspicious and vocal in their opposition to the proposed ordinance, such as Anna Marsolo, who is running for mayor in the upcoming election this November. During the July 18, town council meeting, she spoke against the ordinance, reading a letter to the council saying she didn’t think citizens knew about the transfer of development rights.

“Again you are hurrying it through; most of you won’t even be on the council in a few months,” Marsolo said. “You are a lame duck, and you are proposing a second reading to an ordinance that will totally affect this whole town and our quality of life, once again making us guinea pigs.”

Pete Spittler, who owns the 13.2 acre parcel of land containing the proposed conservation easement on Brenner Hill, and the Hogs N Horses property, says he understands people’s mistrust, but wants to assure residents his intentions are aimed at preserving what makes the town unique.

An architect by trade, Spittler, who is originally from Ohio, was attracted to Cave Creek for its beautiful views, open space, and eclectic town vibe. The TDR ordinance was created in his efforts to preserve Brenner Hill, knowing it was a Cave Creek landmark that needed to be conserved for public open space.

“The town gets a preserved piece of property at no cost, and the opportunity to increase business growth, and in turn tax revenues, it’s kind of a win-win-win,” Spittler said in an interview.
It also provided the perfect buffer between nearby residences and his newly acquired Hogs N Horses establishment, which he intends on remodeling with professional rodeo grounds, an event space, ample parking and a small boutique hotel.

“I believe I know what the right thing to do is,” he said. “There are so many things that can happen but I got to get off that first step first.”

Cave Creek business owners have already expressed support for his plans to remodel Hogs N Horses and the hotel, because it will enhance their bottom line by attracting new people, tourists and events. He also already has someone potentially interested in purchasing a TDR credit, he says.

“By the time you add undisturbed area to landscaping requirements you are operating at 30 to 35 percent of your land that you can’t touch, which is pretty high,” he says about the benefits of the TDR ordinance for Cave Creek businesses. “It is a hardship.”

The TDR allows business to expand by developing pieces of fragmented land on their commercial properties and consolidate them into one useful area of open space on Brenner Hill by purchasing credits from Spittler. Commercial property owners can expand their business by adding parking, square footage and retention on their properties undisturbed areas.

“It’s a balance of ecology, economy and culture,” he said.  “When you can figure out how to balance those things you have a winner.”