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Surprise Planning & Zoning says no to Paloma Creek rezone

County residents argue plans disruptive to area, wildlife

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Surprise city planners described the proposed 10-acre Enclave at Paloma Creek IV annexation north of the community’s current boundaries as sticking up like a thumb.

To most Maricopa County residents living on one-acre lots just north of this parcel, it represents a different finger.

Several county residents spoke during the April 15 Surprise Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, hoping to get the commission to recommend disapproval of a rezoning measure for the Enclave at Paloma Creek IV with a planned-unit development overlay — as well as similar measures for Enclave at Paloma Creek II and Enclave at Paloma Creek III.

But Paloma Creek IV, north of the rest of the project and sharing a boundary with four county properties, received the most adamant opposition. And the commission agreed with these landowners, voting to recommend disapproval of the rezoning by a 5-1 vote — after approving the other two rezoning measures.

“My bigger concern on this one, and why I don’t support it, is that I don’t believe it fits the character of the area,” Commissioner Matthew Keating said preceding Chairman Dennis Bash’s motion of disapproval. “Jutting up into that section like it does, I don’t believe it fits in. And I can see why the people are concerned that if this was annexed and passed, it would potentially force the hand of some of the other properties around it,”

Enclave at Paloma Creek II is already part of the city. Enclave III and IV are currently on county land, but an annexation into Surprise is proposed on both properties.

For more on the annexation process, read the related story 

Kent Taylor, who lives on county land, described Enclave IV as a property proposed by developers who want to continue to encroach north. He and a neighbor also said they believe this proposal is a trial balloon to push the development further north and entice property owners who have not built to sell adjacent land.

“I’m one house up from the corner,” county resident Mark Graham said. “I kind of get it. The first (Enclave) we talked about is in a logical spot and the other is an end cap. But this one sticks up above. It doesn’t fit anything in this master plan. This stick up above is the first step to a lot more in the future, and it’s a lot more in the future that we don’t want. A lot of us have home-based businesses that are legit under county regulations. We’re next and that’s why we have to stop this here. If we get annexed, we’re out of business. This is the most egregious of the three you looked at today.”

As of now, Paloma Creek sits on more than 200 acres off the northeast corner of 163rd Avenue and Happy Valley Road. It includes Enclave II at Paloma Creek. No homes have been built on this land, annexed into Surprise in 2019.

Developer KAX Group LLC, led by Kent Xander, would adopt rural residential zoning if annexed.

Several residents voiced opposition to the proposed zoning for Enclave II and III at Paloma Creek. But they were most adamant about stopping Enclave IV, for three general reasons.

Too dense and close

The northernmost row of houses, those closest to county land, are on larger lots than the rest of the Enclave IV proposal and are single-story. A transition green area serves as a buffer between the county lots and the proposed homes in Enclave IV.

For those living on the up to 200 homes on county land in this area, roughly south of Jomax Road and east of 163rd Avenue, any transition to a development that does not include 1-acre lots and more of the area’s natural vegetation would be jarring.

“A lot of people are, ‘No annexation. No way. No how. No compromise.’ Some people say, ‘Stick to the one house per acre like the areas near us. You can put a really nice house on it,” county resident Jane Peiffer said. “Stick to the one house per acre up against us and then go up to two or three as it gets into the development. Technically that’s what the general plan says they’re supposed to do, a gradual transition to rural land.”

Ms. Peiffer led a petition drive against the annexation and rezoning plans in the neighborhood. She said she gathered 206 signatures in the weeks leading up to the April 15 meeting.

Heading into that meeting, she and her neighbors were concerned the densities they already considered too high would only increase once Xander sells the property to another developer.

There is a for sale sign that lists the KAX Group next to 147th Avenue on the eastern edge of Paloma Creek.

“He’s not the one that’s going to build the houses. He’s going to turn around and resell the land. What he told the city council he was going to do isn’t going to matter. I know for a fact what he’s going to do because if you drive down 147th Avenue about two-thirds of the way down to Happy Valley there’s a for sale sign with the KAX Realty Group,” Ms. Peiffer said. “What do you think his selling point will be?”

In an email response, Surprise Community Development Director Chris Boyd stated the applicant (KAX Group) is requesting the following densities:

  • Enclave II at Paloma Creek – 4.01 dwelling units per acre (20 lots on approximately 5 acres)
  • Enclave III at Paloma Creek – 3.9 dwelling units per acre (21 lots on approximately 5 acres)
  • Enclave IV at Paloma Creek – 3.21 dwelling units per acre (32 lots on approximately 10 acres)

“The development application falls under the regulations of the Surprise Unified Development Code, which is requesting the development standards associated with RM-9 zoning and a stipulation that limits the density and lot yield to those listed above,” Mr. Boyd stated. “If approved and the owner sells, the home builder must comply with those stipulations. Any increase in density and lot yield will require a formal rezoning application.”

Ms. Peiffer said she does not have a blanket anti-development stance. She cited the newer “beautiful” 1-acre custom-build houses east of her neighborhood and south of Jomax.

As for Asante and Desert Oasis, suburban developments to the south and west in Surprise, that land did not have any farms or neighborhoods with 1-acre properties.

“It was open, unoccupied, undesignated land. Putting in Asante and Desert Oasis there made sense. Out here this is not empty land,” Ms. Peiffer said.

A for sale sign stands at the southeastern tip of the Paloma Creek property already annexed into Surprise, off 147th Avenue north of Happy Valley Road. South of that sign is the former desert land clear cut in preparation for the Tierra Verde development. Maricopa County residents are concerned that the Paloma Creek property owner (KAX Group) will flip the land to another developer who will build at homes at a higher density than the one currently advertised for Paloma Creek. [Richard Smith/Independent Newsmedia]

When a road is not a road

For some county residents, 159th Avenue is their access road — even though it’s not exactly a road. From Jomax south to Prickly Rear Road, it is a gravel thoroughfare maintained as best it can be by the neighborhood.

“Technically it’s not a road. But in reality it kind of is and the community uses it,” Ms. Peiffer said. “Between Amazon and UPS, it is a road. It’s kind of a mutual benefit that it’s a road. But the developer says it’s not, that it’s on his land. And he’s going to shut it off.”

She said since the initial outreach meeting in February, Mr. Xander has reminded residents that continuing on 159th Avenue south of Remuda Drive is trespassing.

Residents in this area maintain the roads, water, septic and electrical meters. Well funds help keep up roads.

At the commission meeting April 15, county resident Michelle Brown said 159th is not a Maricopa County road. It is publicly maintained and cannot take extra traffic that would come from the south if Paloma Creek is developed.

“There’s no way to build Enclave IV right now. There’s no way to get trucks and stuff in here. We had a garbage truck come in here (earlier in April) and it broke this man’s water main,” Ms. Brown said.

And if access to 159th remains limited south of Remuda, county residents south of that street will be stuck.

“The people who live on Prickly Pear and 159th will not be able to get their work trucks out using 157th. There’s a big, deep wash. The trailer is going to dip and the horses are gonna die,” Ms. Brown said. “That’s the man’s livelihood.”

During the meeting, Mr. Keating said the wash that runs through Prickly Pear also cuts off about 13 homes when it floods.

“Developers don’t come out here and look around. They look at Google Maps, which is good and they get the satellite view. But you can’t see how deep a wash is on satellite view,” Ms. Peiffer said.

Kurt Jones, senior planner with Tiffany and Bosco PA in Phoenix, represents the developer. He said if approved, 159th Avenue would be a paved city street from the northern boundary of Enclave IV to Happy Valley Road.

“They’ll be able to access that fully improved street to head north. That will turn into dirt, which is what they’re using right now,” Mr. Jones said April 15.

Mr. Xander said at an April 20 city council meeting that he would be willing to put a culvert in to divert the floodwater away from 159th Avenue.

Natural balance

Then there is the neighborhood itself and the relationship of its residents to the surrounding desert and wildlife.

“We have huge amounts of wildlife come through here. We have cardinals, we have bobcats and mountain lions,” Ms. Brown said. “The cardinals come back every year to the same spot, so if the area they’re nesting in is developed, they’re screwed.”

She has become the resident that looks after animals nearby. The thought of more clear-cutting of desert scrub, uprooting the surrounding vegetation and destroying habitats — or worse — is almost too much for her.

“As for the wildlife, I just had to pick up a hawk in January who had his wing mangled and his foot shredded by a construction vehicle. His parents’ nest is right at the corner of Enclave IV. That’s their main hunting area,” Ms. Brown said April 15.

She and Ms. Peiffer have seen the effects of clear-cutting on the land just south of the Paloma Creek development, where the Tierra Verde subdivision will soon be built.

“If you go out there, the Earth drops off. I kid you not for a mile it is clear-cut two or three feet down, as far as you can see,” Md. Peiffer said.

Ms. Peiffer told the commission she also has not received any information on how Paloma Creek developers plan to protect the aquifer from heavy equipment destroying that area of land in order of clear-cut and grade it before redirecting water.

That would affect quality of life for a wide range of animals — including the humans.

“How do we know they’re not going to damage the caliche layer which protects the aquifer which all of our wells draw out of. None of that is in this plan,” Ms. Peiffer said April 15.

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