The changing landscape along Pecos Road, including the area around 48th Street, is being documented by Ahwatukee resident Tom Sanfilippo via stunning overhead shots taken by a camera-mounted drone.
Tom Sanfilippo/Special to AFN

If you thought 2017 brought a lot of changes to Ahwatukee, only one thing can be said about the new year: You ain’t seen anything yet.

And if you are still recovering from the 2016 blitz of candidates’ pitches and the overall frenzy of politics, strap on your seat belts because 2018 in some respects will offer Ahwatukee a dizzying area of choices at the ballot box – likely in three separate elections.

Here is a look at some of the major changes awaiting Ahwatukee as residents hang up new calendars.

Races galore

By far, politics will be one of two dominating themes for Ahwatukee in 2018 – the other, of course, being the South Mountain Freeway.

From Phoenix City Hall to the State Capitol to Congress, Ahwatukee voters will be deciding a host of races.

For starters, look for a special election, likely this spring, as candidates jockey to replace Mayor Greg Stanton, who is eyeing the congressional seat being vacated by Kyrsten Sinema, whose district includes Ahwatukee.

One of the rumored candidates is an Ahwatukee resident: Moses Sanchez, a former Tempe Union High School District governing board member. Sanchez has declined to say whether he’s in the race, which likely will also involve two incumbent City Council members.

Come August, primary elections will arrive, though it is unclear whether Legislative District 18, which encompasses Ahwatukee, will have a dog in that hunt.

State Rep. Jill Norgaard is unlikely to face a primary challenge within her Republican ranks. Ditto on the D-side for Sen. Sean Bowie of Ahwatukee and Rep. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe, who are both hoping to get the nod in November for second terms.

Whether Democrats and Republicans in Ahwatukee have any reason to hit the polls in August will depend on who throws their hats into the ring for U.S. Senate and governor.

Republican voters at this point are most likely facing a tough primary choice in the U.S. Senate primary.

In the fall, Tempe commercial airline pilot Frank Schmuck is also expected to go for a third run at a seat in the state Legislature by challenging Bowie.

And the fall also will likely see some contests for seats on the governing boards for both Tempe Union and Kyrene school districts.

Two seats will be up for grab on both boards and it is unclear if any of the incumbents in either district will seek reelection.

Judging by social media, the more heated contest could be in Kyrene, where some conservative Republicans have been making noise about their unhappiness with the current board.

Education also will be the focus of what’s likely to be a fierce campaign in the fall over the fate of the expanded school voucher program, which opponents managed to get on the ballot as a referendum question.

Changes in the landscape

While it remains to be seen whether President Trump will get his wall, residents living along Pecos Road will get theirs this year as sound barriers between 16 and 20 feet high – and possibly even higher in some parts – begin to rise along just about the entire stretch of the South Mountain Freeway in Ahwatukee.

The walls’ exteriors will echo architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s connection with the South Mountain foothills, where he worked on the design for a resort that wasn’t built following the 1929 stock market crash.

Designs for the walls in Ahwatukee will be divided into two separate patterns. The stretch from I-10 to just beyond 24th Street will carry an “Ocotillo Settlement” pattern “using simple materials to celebrate the spare geometric forms of desert landscape and crisp geometry of vegetation,” according to Arizona Department of Transportation plans.

From the western edge of those walls into Laveen, the “Cholla Ocotillo” pattern whose “design principles represent the simple shapes and forms on native cholla and ocotillo cactus,” those plans add.

Of course, most of those homes along those two stretches will lose their desert views as crews barrel on to reach a late 2019 opening of the 22-mile, eight-lane freeway connecting the Chandler and West 59th Avenue interchanges along I-10.

The $1.7 billion project also will affect what residents see when they look at the mountains as crews begin blasting mid-year to carve a 200-foot-wide freeway path across three South Mountain peaks.

Although ADOT has been conducting smaller-scale blasting along portions of Pecos Road since August, it has not yet released information on the noise that resident can expect from what likely will be more aggressive blasting on the mountain.

Ahwatukee Lakes

It’s likely that 2018 will have barely begun before a state Superior Court judge issues his long-awaited verdict on the fight over the future of the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.

The judge was supposed to have rendered a decision by the end of last month in the case, in which two residents want the owner, The True Life Companies, to restore golf to the 101-acre site, which was closed five years ago.

True Life wants the judge to overturn land-use regulations governing the site, claiming a golf course is no longer profitable.

But will a decision mean anything for the course’s immediate future? Not likely.

At a bare minimum, the losing side could appeal, further prolonging any resolution.

And True Life during the trial in October already indicated that if it can’t build houses on the site, it might just declare bankruptcy and walk away from Ahwatukee Lakes.

K-12 education

Changes in both Tempe Union and Kyrene schools are likely, as a new superintendent takes the reigns of the former while officials in the latter district continue to implement a number of major changes.

Tempe Union Superintendent Kenneth Baca retires June 30 and will be replaced by Associate Superintendent Kevin Mendivil.

Kyrene is in the process of implementing a broad series of changes in the district to give older children more choices in electives and introduce new programs such as the International Baccalaureate program at Kyrene Middle School in Tempe and a K-8 campus at Kyrene Traditional Academy in Chandler.

City taxes and services

There’s some good news and potentially a lot more bad news for Ahwatukee residents coming from City Hall.

On the happy side, hikers can expect the Pima Canyon Trail Head to open in a matter of weeks following a six-month rehabilitation that includes permanent bathrooms, expanded parking and a ramada.

Motorists also are likely to see a lot more resurfacing activity in Ahwatukee as part of a three-year plan to re-do all the streets’ surfaces in the community.

But is a tax hike also looming in Ahwatukee residents’ future?

City officials painted a grim forecast a month ago as they continue grappling with a $3.5 unfunded pension liability, and said either service cuts or some kind of tax increase will be needed.

Hangovers from 2017

Two major issues affecting hundreds of residents still await an explanation, let alone a resolution.

Huge spikes in water meter readings that occurred during the summer for many city water customers have yet to be explained, leaving them still licking their wallet wounds from having to fork over budget-busting payments.

City Councilman Sal DiCiccio in October got five professionals who live in Ahwatukee to form a task force that is studying everything from the city’s software to the meters themselves.

It’s unclear when – or even if – they’ll find an explanation that doesn’t involve leaks, which many of the affected customers did not appear to have since the readings in most cases returned to normal levels the following month.

Then there’s the stench that seems to periodically invade an area between 40th and 32nd streets and Pecos Road and Chandler Boulevard.

A joint city-county task force, led by the Phoenix Department for Environmental Services – is trying to track down the odor’s source.

Business and community life

Two major additions to Ahwatukee’s local business scene will have a big impact on how at least some residents might be spending their free time and the economic fortunes of at least one major intersection.

Mountainside Fitness is returning to the place where it started as it opens a gym in the old Sports Authority building at a strip mall on the northeastern corner of Ray Road and 48th Street.

Almost simultaneous to its late January opening in the same strip mall, a massive amusement center where kids and adults can bounce on trampolines and specially designed walls to their heart’s content will be opening. That facility, called Urban Air Adventure Park, is opening next to Mountainside within a matter of a week or two.

Both businesses likely will give a big shot in the arm to that intersection.

Meanwhile, barring some unforeseen developments, Ahwatukee residents can expect the return of some of their most cherished traditions, such as the Festival of Lights and its related beer-and-wine event in spring and the kick-off party the day after Thanksgiving as well as the Easter Parade.

But will the Red White and Boom! Independence Day fireworks show return after last year’s bust?

Hard to say.

The Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the years-long event, cancelled when it abruptly lost an unidentified partner that was going to put up the cash for the show.

Even if the chamber finds a partner, chances are the show won’t be held in Ahwatukee anyway since the staging area for the fireworks had been in the South Mountain Freeway path.

Chamber President/CEO Lindy Lutz Cash said that freeway construction would have eliminated that staging area last year.

One possibility remains: Last year, local promoter Tim Matykiewicz tried to raise public contributions to stage a smaller version but didn’t reach his fundraising goal in time.

He wanted to hold a smaller fireworks show at Desert Foothills Park.

Whether he’ll try again this year remains to be seen since right now he’s busy putting the finishing details on a big hot-air balloon festival in the West Valley scheduled for next month.

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