Crews along the Pecos Road segment of the South Mountain Freeway began laying the groundwork for sound walls that will be 16-20 feet high.
Arizona Department of Transportation

Club West Golf Course was restored to a lush venue, but the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course remained deader than a duff.

The South Mountain Freeway started rising out of the desert, but a missing link in Chandler Boulevard opened to provide residents of several HOAs a way around Pecos Road.

There were no Independence Day fireworks, but the 41st annual Easter Parade, the 18th annual Ahwatukee Nutcracker and the 22nd annual Festival of Lights went off as scheduled.

And while scores homeowners were enraged by unexplained spikes in their water usage costing them hundreds of dollars, others fumed over a mysterious stench that has bedeviled certain neighborhoods since August.

Here is a look at some of the major news events and newsmakers in Ahwatukee that will make 2017 either a year people want to remember – or forget.

The freeway

Bulldozers and hundreds of workers began reshaping the desert along Pecos Road, flattening hills and even leveling the 20-year-old Mountain Park Community Church for an interchange along the South Mountain Freeway.  The congregation opened a magnificent new church on 48th Street and Frye Road.

They didn’t even bother waiting for a federal appeals court ruling that put a stake through the heart of the freeway’s opposition by unanimously upholding a federal judge’s August 2016 opinion that gave the $1.7 billion project the green light.

The Ahwatukee-based Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children gave up its 10-year fight, though it continues to insist that highway planners conducted inadequate environmental impact studies.

The Gila River Indian Community has yet to say whether it will drop its claims that the freeway desecrates South Mountain, which it considers sacred. But it’s almost a certainty no court will hear another argument.

The freeway did produce one new addition to Ahwatukee’s street grid with the completion of the 1.2-mile Chandler Boulevard Extension between 27th and 19th avenues.

After pressure from city Councilman Sal DiCiccio, city officials agreed to make it a three-lane road instead of only two lanes. It provides an access to several HOAs in far west Ahwatukee that would have been stranded once Pecos Road closes for good in late 2019 when the freeway opens.

Ahwatukee’s golf courses

The long-awaited nonjury trial over the future of the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course has yet to produce a verdict, but it may not matter anyway as far as resolving the stalemate over it is concerned.

After losing its yearlong campaign to get enough homeowners to back its proposal to build about 270 homes, a farm and some other amenities on the 101-acre site, The True Life Companies asked a state Superior Court judge to throw out the land-use regulations requiring a golf course.

That judge is also considering homeowners’ insistence that True Life be required to restore the course.

But company executives testified the firm would simply declare bankruptcy and walk away.

A radically different scenario occurred at Club West, where only a year ago homeowners were fretting over that golf course’s future.

Longtime Ahwatukee resident Richard Breuninger bought the course and immediately restored the water-deprived site to lush green.

He also has other big plans for the course, which is now part of his Inter Tribal Golf Association of 63 Native American tribes owning a total of 111 courses nationwide.

Water meters gone amok

It started with a trickle and became a deluge.

First, the small Foothills Gateway Homeowners Association noticed that their July water bill showed they had used 20,000 times the normal amount of water that feeds a tiny park no more than the size of half of a football field.

Then, homeowners throughout Ahwatukee started noticing huge spikes in their water usage readings for the same month.

In most cases, the readings went back to normal the following month or two later, but homeowners stuck for hundreds of dollars in unexpected utility payments to the city were outraged.

DiCiccio arranged for a town hall meeting with the city Water Services Department, which said it has no explanation for the spikes – especially since most of the affected homeowners had no undetected leaks.

DiCiccio and a group of five professionals who live in Ahwatukee are analyzing a massive amount of data to figure it out.

The nose knows

Another mystery that cropped up during the late summer and hasn’t been resolved is a mysterious stench plaguing some neighborhoods in Ahwatukee.

County and city air quality experts are now working together to track down the source of the on-again, off-again stench, which appears to primarily affect an area between 40th and 32nd streets and Pecos Road and Chandler Boulevard.

At the polls

Ahwatukee residents had big elections in both August and November, first as incumbent DiCiccio fended off a challenge by Central Phoenix executive Kevin Patterson. DiCiccio won his third and final term.

In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a raft of budget-related requests by both Tempe Union High School and Kyrene Schools districts.

Tempe Union got approval not only to extend a 10 percent budget override but increase it to 15 percent, with the extra going to increase pay for teachers and staff incrementally over the next five years.

Kyrene got the nod for extending its 10 percent operating and capital budget overrides and extend its borrowing capacity by more than $100 million.

Independence Day fizzle

The Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce cancelled its longtime tradition of celebrating Independence Day with its Red White and Boom festival and fireworks show.

Besides the fact that freeway construction rendered the fireworks staging area unavailable and could have forced the show to be relocated outside Ahwatukee, the chamber also lost an unidentified company that had promised to pay for it.

Unable to cover the estimated $50,000 cost of the fireworks show, the chamber pulled the plug on the event. Ahwatukee promoter Tim Matykiewicz tried to raise public contributions to stage a smaller version but didn’t reach his fundraising goal in time.

Also terminated after nine years was the Tukee Fest rock gathering, which was replaced by a cornhole tournament for businesses.

And in education

Kyrene officials are shaking up their approach to education after ordering a massive audit of everything from course offerings to available technology.

In addition to implementing the popular International Baccalaureate program at Kyrene Middle School, the board also approved a $6 million addition to Kyrene Traditional Academy in Chandler to provide a K-8 campus.

Both measures are popular with many parents and the district is competing with other districts as well as charter schools in an effort to retain and grow current student population.

On another front, Superintendent Jan Vesely and her staff tried to stop the state Board of Education from releasing Arizona’s first letter grades for schools in two years, showing how its formula was flawed.

The board admitted there were questions, released the grades anyway, then announced it was going back to the drawing board because the formula was indeed flawed.

The business scene

The business scene in Ahwatukee brightened considerably with the arrival of at least a half-dozen new restaurants, the opening of a Burlington Coat Factory outlet, 20-year anniversaries celebrated by Jamba Juice and Native Grill and the emergence of dozens of small, home-based businesses.

In addition, Generations Ahwatukee opened its senior residential facility, which has both assisted and independent living units.

Hikers get big news

Phoenix launched a $21 million program to improve trails and amenities on the South Mountain Preserve, starting with a major improvement of Pima Canyon Trail Head that is wrapping up right now.

The city delayed starting the project for several months while it tweaked its plans to satisfy nearby homeowners’ concerns.

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