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Cards laid on table ahead of Surprise council meeting on Paloma Creek annexation

10-acre Enclave at Paloma Creek IV expected on June 15 agenda

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A revamped proposal for the contentious Enclave at Paloma Creek IV development, which would include a 10-acre annexation into the city of Surprise, should make its way to the City Council agenda June 15.

And the clock is ticking. As is its custom, the council will not meet in July, and with the current overflow of demand for homes in Arizona, new homes cannot be built fast enough.

John Wittrock owns Scottsdale-based Marbella Homes and specializes in land development and acquisition. He and Kent Xander own the land for Paloma Creek, including this 10 acres proposed for annexation.

Mr. Wittrock said since the Surprise Planning and Zoning Commission recommendation of disapproval for rezoning of Enclave IV at Paloma Creek on April 15 by a 6-1 vote, he and Mr. Xander have dropped the parcel from 36 to 31 home lots.

Surprise also recommended 159th Avenue connecting from Paloma Creek to the Maricopa County island full of 1-acre lots to the north, but Mr. Wittrock balked at the idea.

“There is a sense of urgency for us to get this done. We did what we said we were going to do and met with the neighbors a couple times now to address concerns and dropped lots. I can only do so much to help these neighbors. I think we’re leaving them in a better situation than if we pushed the other plan for 159th Avenue to go through,” Mr. Wittrock said.

Meritage Homes will buy all of Paloma Creek and build one connected development on it, including Enclave at Paloma Creek IV if the annexation is approved. The main 200-acre Paloma Creek annexation into Surprise was approved in 2019, and three smaller 5-acre Enclave at Paloma Creek areas have been annexed since, with Surprise adding Enclave at Paloma Creek III May 18.

During discussions in the last two months, Mr. Wittrock said county resident Jeff Wood suggested walling off the northern boundary of Paloma Creek and keeping the dirt road of 159th Avenue in the county separate from the Paloma Creek roads.

“I didn’t think connecting it was being a good neighbor. We’re blocking off 159th and will leave an emergency access to Prickly Pear (Trail). Working with Meritage Homes and an engineer, those neighbors are going to have input on what that emergency access looks like. I think we’re leaving the neighbors in the county island in the same shape we left neighbors to Rancho Mercado and Tierra Verde,” Mr. Wittrock said.

A May 24 meeting between the county residents and the land owners at Asante Preparatory Academy brought out 27 residents.

Will there be one more Paloma Creek annexation proposal?

At that meeting, Kent Taylor said fellow county residents should be relieved 159th Avenue will not connect the city and county.

“The people with the horse trailers are respectful of how we live, not going 50 mph down a dirt road. That keeps traffic out of our neighborhood,” Mr. Taylor.

That may not suffice for some of his neighbors.

CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Jane Peiffer has emerged in recent months as the spokeswoman for county residents.

She said a reduction from the 36 originally planned lots to 32 was discussed after the first neighborhood meeting in February, so cutting it down to 31 is really a token decrease.

“As to the wall and the not connecting 159th all the way from Jomax to the development ... well that is getting mixed feelings. The folks who live off of 159th on the Jomax end are happy because they don’t want cut through traffic,” Ms. Peiffer stated in an email. “The folks who live on Prickly Pear are confused as to whether they will still be able to go around the edge of the wall to go north on what they all believed to be 159th (that we know now is not) or whether they will only be able to access the west side of Prickly Pear in the case of an emergency and how that access would work.”

County resident Mark Graham suggested something like 10 single-acre lots. There is a rezoning case tied to the annexation, as under its current zoning no more than five lots could be built on 10 acres.

Mr. Wittrock said more buyers want narrower lots with big back yards. He also suggested Meritage would not be interested in the parcel if more lots are dropped.

He said the closest homes in Enclaves III and IV to county houses would be at least 80 to 100 feet away with a wall in between.

“Kent and I said let’s take this down to what we think we can still get Meritage to buy it. That was the 31 lots,” Mr. Wittrock said. “A buyer wants specific lot sizes for a specific product. The distance between Susan’s and Mark’s house is closer than what it’s going to be with any house in Enclave IV. They get along as neighbors and hopefully they get along with future neighbors as well as they get along today.”

The buffer zone between Paloma Creek and the county island, he said, will follow the same conditions at Tierra Verde East and Rancho Mercado, that is no more than two lots abutting any 1-acre county lot. A nearly 50-foot-wide drainage tract is also in between, with 50 feet of landscaped open space and trails in some areas.

Other parts of Paloma Creek, away from the dividing line, are coming soon.

“There’s 14 different sales to Meritage because of the way we purchased it. They’ve closed on 100 acres and are closing on the next 50 acres from me in August. And the last 50 acres, they’re going to close on in January,” Mr. Wittrock said. “They’re going to grade the first 100 acres this summer, and the balance they’ll grade starting in January or February of next summer.”

All three Enclave parcels are on slightly different timelines, though they also are expected to close in August.

This wash at 159th Avenue and Prickly Pear Road on Maricopa County land just north of the Paloma Creek development in Surprise is unpassable when flooded. [Courtesy Jane Peiffer]

A PRICKLY PROBLEM

What form emergency access on Prickly Pear will take remains undetermined.

This dirt road is the furthest south in the county island, and dips severely into a wash around 158th Avenue. This stretch is unpassable during storms strong enough to flood this wash.

Mr. Wood asked land owners about building a drainage culvert to divert floodwater away from Prickly Pear.

“I have no problem doing that,” Mr. Wittrock said.

The future course of Prickly Pear will require future negotiations.

“We met with the county. The county wants this road to go through. I think what we’re going to end up with is emergency access on 159th,” Mr. Wittrock said. “The city wants to make sure we maintain emergency access there, which I’m fine doing. But I don’t want people cutting through construction traffic along this road to get out. If you build a road, people follow it. The county wants us to get an engineer and permits. It’s a private road. I wouldn’t do that. The city wants maintenance agreements from the adjacent owners, and none of these neighbors want to help us with the maintenance on it. So it’s a stalemate.”

THE BIG PICTURE OF GROWTH

Mr. Wittrock said he has owned property in Surprise since 2001. He stated in an email that slightly more than 20,000 homes are zoned north of the tracks at 163rd and Grand avenues.

Karen Cote moved into the county subdivision about four years, after finding the area by chance a few years ago.

“When I moved out here from the East Coast 10 years ago I knew Arizona was going to grow. I wanted to be out enough where it took time before it grew into me. It grew into me a little quicker than I thought,” Ms. Cote said.

No school is planned in Paloma Creek, but students living there will be zoned to attend Dysart Unified School District K-8 site set aside in Rancho Mercado.

Ms. Cote said she is worried more families and kids will move in with little to do.

“Right now I think Dysart keeps two or three buses up this way. You’re going to meed more. And what if one breaks down. The school system is going to be affected a great deal,” Ms. Cote said. “I did try to help the school system with the bond because I do believe they need to be prepared. You’re seeing the influx of people moving in at Asante already.”

Growth may be inevitable in this area, but Ms. Peiffer stated the bulk of her neighbors would rather take their chances down the road with another developer on this 10 acres. Unfortunately, she said, with all that has occurred some believe this developer is not to be trusted.

“We are not opposed to the area being developed under it’s current zoning and jurisdiction. Five new neighbors in custom homes, with room and space for home occupation use or animal use, would be awesome. Re-divide it into nine parcels of 1.1 acre each, great! We would welcome the new neighbors. More than that damages the essential character of the area that currently exists.” Ms. Peiffer stated. “We the established residents have fully vested property rights. Of which, continuity of area land use and enjoyment are paramount. A short term owner’s (developer) future profit potential does not give him more rights than any other vested property owner. The application process for acquiring more rights is permissive not mandatory. The city absolutely can tell him no without harming his vested property rights, the ones that are the same as what we have.”

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