Public opinion weighs heavily in Lakes development - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Public opinion weighs heavily in Lakes development

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Posted: Monday, August 18, 2014 8:52 am | Updated: 3:58 pm, Fri Sep 12, 2014.

Getting approval from 51 percent of neighbors to change the CC&Rs governing the closed Lakes Golf Course is only the first of many challenges Pulte Homes must overcome to build 250 homes on the land. Its next greatest challenge would be surviving the city’s zoning process.

If Pulte gets consent from 51 percent of homeowners in the Ahwatukee Board of Management to move forward with what is a conceptual plan right now, the next step for company officials will be to take their case to the city of Phoenix to have the zoning on the land changed to meet their project. That process requires an extensive application, a public hearing, a meeting before the Village Planning Committee, the city’s planning commission and ultimately City Council approval.

The entire project will be governed by the zoning application submitted to the city.

“We’ll review the application for how it fits in with the general plan and general plan goals, how it fits in with the surrounding context, any big concerns from streets or water departments about being able to provide service, and check out any neighborhood comments or input,” said Alan Stephenson, director of the city’s Planning and Development Department. “It would be evaluated as part of that process.”

Once city officials review the application, they’ll schedule a meeting with the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee to gather input from the public. At that time, the plan will still be conceptual but the public will have an opportunity to submit stipulations for the project such as buffer zones, wall heights, amount of homes built and open space.

Several neighbors have expressed concern that once they sign a consent form for Pulte to change the CC&Rs on the land, it will be like signing a blank check. Not so, according to Stephen Earl of Earl, Curley and Lagarde, the law firm Pulte officials have said they plan to hire to handle their zoning case when it goes to the city. All the stipulations Pulte has presented in its consent form would become part of the application throughout the zoning process.

“There’s a difference between legally binding and morally binding,” Earl said. “Certainly the city and everyone at the city will know about these commitments and I certainly, while I’m handling the case, would make all of them known. Any commitment that they make as a part of this process to get the deed restriction lifted would become part of the case. Once they are in the case and they become stipulations on the zoning case, then they are binding upon the property no matter who develops it.”

From the Village Planning Committee, the application is sent to the city’s planning commission for review. Following the planning commission, it goes before the city council for ultimate approval.

“Ultimately the mayor and city council have the authority to approve or deny the request,” Stephenson said. “Everyone else along the way is helping to make that decision. Staff provides a staff recommendation of what we think from a professional land-use perspective, the Village Planning Committee provides perspective from local residents and neighbors in the area, the planning commission provides input from a citywide perspective and then the city council votes on it.”

Getting approval from the council may be Pulte’s greatest challenge. City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said without a stronger show of community support, he won’t approve the project.

“They won’t get a deal done with 51 percent of the votes through the council,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. They need to come in with a strong showing. On this path they are on, clearly they’ll never get there. A strong showing would be 80 to 85 percent before people like myself and others will even give it any attention.”

DiCiccio said when he looks at zoning cases, he looks at how the project fits the community, how developers have treated the neighbors and how the project fits the area long term. In this case, he’s been disappointed by the way Pulte is dealing with neighbors and the way they’ve communicated with his office.

“They’ve created such an antagonistic relationship in this community,” he said. “Everything they’ve done has been a slap in the face to the people who are here. They have to work with the people who have strong issues, which the Save the Lakes people have. They have to sit down and work out their issues with them first.”

The Save the Lakes members, who oppose homes built on the land, have been collecting their own signatures to uphold the CC&Rs. Ben Holt, president of Save the Lakes, said they’re still working to have their signatures verified but feel confident in the response they’ve gotten. DiCiccio said he estimates Save the Lakes has more than 2,000 signatures from neighbors opposed to developing the land.

“Our goal is to get as many people supporting the project as possible,” said Jacque Petroulakis, spokesperson for Pulte. “We are seeing a lot of momentum in recent weeks and we hope it continues. We will definitely continue to seek more approvals through the entire zoning process. As people learn more about the project, realize it is a good alternative than the current state, realize the condition of the property is not likely to change otherwise, it makes sense to continue to seek their support.”

If the project were to get approval from the city council, which could take six to nine months, it would still need to go through a site plan process involving engineers from the city to determine more details about the plan. Everything in the site plan would need to conform to what was shown to the public. Those meetings are also open to the public and stipulations could be added to give community leaders notice of those meetings.

Following the site plan process, a developer moves on to the final plat approval and design. The final plat allows the developer to sell lots for construction. Final design of the homes wouldn’t be decided until this time, and prices for the homes wouldn’t be decided until closer to construction.

If everything goes according to plan, Pulte hopes to be selling homes in 2018. For more information on its plan, visit pulteahwatukee.com. To learn more about Save the Lakes’ opposition, visit savethelakes.weebly.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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