Incorporation revived in New River Desert Hills

Grassroots group requests annexation from Phoenix, Peoria, Scottsdale

By Tara Alatorre

NEW RIVER – This June incorporation efforts by residents in the New River and Desert Hills area were stopped in its tracks after the City of Phoenix declined to give its permission, which is required by state law because the communities share a common border.

Phoenix’s denial came as a blow to the residents that had worked diligently for almost two years on getting an incorporation measure to the local ballot, especially because petition signatures had already been filed with Maricopa County.

And just when locals in the rural community thought incorporation efforts had evaporated like a puddle in the sizzling summer heat, the Let New River Desert Hills Decide Political Action Committee (PAC) came whirling on to the scene like a dust storm.

The new PAC is already making waves and has filed annexation requests with the cities of Scottsdale, Peoria and Phoenix, which is the next legal step for the territory in Arizona’s incorporation process. Phoenix now has less than 120 days to annex, and if it doesn’t the PAC will be able to move forward again with its incorporation efforts, regardless of Phoenix’s decision, according to state law.

This may be the first time in Arizona’s history that a community has pushed back, taking the next legal steps required after another municipality has declined a territory permission to incorporate.

The boundaries of the area that the Let New River Desert Hills Decide PAC requested to be annexed. (Map courtesy of NRDHIC)

“In recent memory in the last 15 years or so, no I don’t think it’s been done before,” said Ken Strobeck, the executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. “It’s our belief that local determination is the best for these types of situations.”

He says in recent years San Tan Valley, Vail and Apache Junction have tried to incorporate into their own municipality but were denied after not receiving permission from required parties; being either neighboring municipalities, the county board of supervisors or other declarant involved parties.

“I would say this is a unique development…and very uncommon,” Strobeck said, while hesitant to say for sure that this was the first time ever in Arizona that a territory requested annexation after receiving denial from a city.

The new Let New River Desert Hills Decide (LNRDHD)PAC was formed by David Thompson, who was active in the New River Desert Hills Incorporation Committee (NRDHIC). He and other residents, some who were also members of NRDHIC,  got feelings when the City of Phoenix denied their request to incorporate.

“This community regards the denial of self-determination as a direct blow to the resident’s democratic right to influence their destiny through the right to vote. The community also regards the denial as clear intent by Phoenix and the Arizona State Land Department (ASLD) to continue developing the area with high density development while ignoring the wishes and lifestyle choices of the residents of our rural community for the past many decades,” the LNRDHD PAC stated in a press release last week.

A statement from the Let New River Desert Hills Decide PAC

According to Thompson, the PAC used the same maps and borders used by the incorporation committee earlier this year to determine the territory’s border, which includes approximately 9,300 parcels. If Phoenix does decide it wants to annex New River and Desert Hills, the city must wait 30 days from the filing to begin the annexation process.

State law requires Phoenix to solicit signatures from residents to annex: Getting consent of owners of at least one-half of the value of the real and personal property and more than one-half by number of the property owners in the territory to be annexed, according to a lawyer who is involved with incorporations in Arizona, and wished to remain on background.

“If they get enough signatures to meet the two requirements, they can then get the signatures verified (usually a month or so) and finally pass an ordinance to annex the area,” Thompson stated in an email to The Focus.  “Big job. Actually, much bigger than an incorporation to get going. Please notice the city has to do all of this.”

Phoenix confirmed that it had received the annexation application and “is currently evaluating the annexation request.”

Additionally, Peoria and Scottsdale cannot annex this area since they share no common border. But according to the state law the PAC is required to request annexation from any city larger than the territory’s population within six miles, according to the lawyer.

“It’s a very scary thing to do,” Thompson told The Foothills Focus over the phone shortly after filing the annexation requests on July 24. “But if no one passes an ordinance, which must be very specific, then we are free to do what we want.”

Phoenix and the Arizona State Land Department (ASLD) stated intentions to develop areas of the rural community when they sent letters to the incorporation committee earlier this year.

“They really wanted the businesses and the possible businesses along Carefree [Highway],” Thompson said about why Phoenix doesn’t want the territory to incorporate.  “Phoenix really does want a Thanksgiving turkey they can carve up at will.”

In those letters, both Phoenix and ASLD cited losing revenue as a reason for why they did not support the incorporation request from NRHDIC.

“They see this area as a Thanksgiving Day turkey,” Thompson said.  “They want to cut off the good pieces first and over time other bits and pieces….and there is nothing worse for this area than that.”

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