More than three years have passed since the Maricopa County Flood Control District and the City of Phoenix labeled a mountainside in the Tapestry Canyon area of Ahwatukee a hazard.
Citing “erosion and sediment hazards,” the April 2016 report lists the mountainside behind East Dry Creek Road and S. 14th Way among 39 Ahwatukee areas where homes and other buildings will sustain heavy damage in a so-called 100-year flood.
Homes on East Dry Creek Road sit at the base of the mountainside, now in the path of water runoff after severe storms. Over the last five years, that runoff relentlessly ate away at a trail that has been a cherished neighborhood amenity as well as a natural diversion for water that cascades down the mountainside during heavy rains. Now, runoff in heavy rains could overcome the small drainage culvert behind the homes’ backyard walls.
Despite repeated complaints over five years to the two homeowners associations to which the neighborhood belongs – the Tapestry Canyon Community Association and the master Foothills Community Association – not much has been done.
And what little was done only made things worse, neighbors say. One or both of the HOAs built small dams on the mountainside that were eventually covered with silt, causing further erosion of the trail.
Last week at their monthly meeting, Foothills HOA board members signaled that they have set the wheels in motion to fix the problem.
Those assurances appeared to be greeted with some relief but continued anxiety.
There are reasons for the latter.
Years of pleading
Tapestry Canyon has been one of numerous points of friction between some homeowners and the Foothills HOA board.
That friction erupted into a recall movement against longtime board President Bill Fautsch and two newer members this past spring. It failed when two developers with nearly 400 votes between them threw all those ballots in the three board members’ favor.
Homeowners beneath the looming menace of the eroding mountainside say the board has taken few measures to provide a safeguard from a flood and even a landslide.
At one point, homeowners said, the board advised them to get flood insurance – which typically doesn’t cover damages from a landslide.
Jim St. Leger, who lives only a few houses down from the mountainside, said a heavy rainstorm in 2014 started the trail’s deterioration.
“We had four-and-a-half inches of rain in the span of a couple of hours,” St. Leger recalled. “So massive, massive flooding came down. It started some of the erosion.”
Where Foothills HOA is concerned, homeowners in the neighborhood have complained to a succession of management companies with no response. First Rossmar & Graham was the property management company in charge when the complaints started; that company was replaced by First Residential, which has since been replaced by Premier Community Management.
Similarly, Tapestry Canyon HOA board members also haven’t been much help, residents say, and they too have gone through a couple different management companies.
In the face of the two HOAs’ tepid response, the trail’s erosion and the neighbors’ concerns have continued to grow.
Storm-driven runoff has attacked soil and rock with at times devastating volume and velocity. Following one heavy rain last year, a neighbor said, water cascaded down the mountainside for 10 days.
The damage is easily visible.
The first 300 feet or so at the base of the trail have been obliterated.
Farther up, half the width of the widest part of the trail has been so chewed up that it created a kind of a mini-cliff with a three-to-four-foot drop.
In response, the HOAs posted a sign stating the trail is closed.
A few years ago, a Boy Scout earning his Eagle status got together a group of people who bolstered a lower part of the trail.
They used river rock fortified by some fencing to keep stabilize a lower portion of the trail.
“It was great,” St. Leger recalled. “He did a good job.”
But more downpours came and eventually washed away most of the work.
St. Leger said he and other homeowners have filed numerous complaints with Foothills HOA, the umbrella or master HOA for the neighborhood.
“My argument was this: ‘You maintain property values for us. We pay you to do that. This is decreasing my property value. You should come fix it,’” he said.
Foothills board members have claimed in the past that they’re powerless to do anything because part of the mountainside belongs to the Tapestry Canyon HOA.
At the August meeting of the Foothills HOA board, one board member said that while Foothills is a master HOA, the Tapestry Canyon association has to be part of any solution.
The Tapestry Canyon HOA did not respond to AFN’s request for comment.
St. Leger said he told the Foothills board to take legal action – but the board ignored him. Other homeowners say they can’t understand why Foothills doesn’t exert more influence if it indeed needs the Tapestry Canyon HOA involved.
“The lack of action and the wrong action just amplified the problem and made it worse,” St. Leger said, referring to the dams that proved ineffective against the powerful runoff.
A couple who own one of the houses directly in the path of that runoff appeared before the Foothills board at its August and September meetings.
“We need an understanding of how and when the board plans to remediate the mountainside and prevent a catastrophic loss,” said the woman during a lengthy review of the problem in August.
Because the woman declined comment when AFN approached her and because shewas speaking at a nonpublic meeting, AFN is withholding her name.
“We need action now before we have to deal with another big storm,” she told the board.
“These safety issues demand immediate attention and action from the board,” she continued. “It’s time to focus on real solutions. We’re looking for a permanent engineered solution that will stabilize the mountainside as soon as possible.”
Pointing to Foothills HOA’s reserve fund of more than $1 million, she demanded that the board develop specific steps for addressing the problem.
“What are you going to do to prevent property damage to our homes and keep our families safe?” she asked. “That’s what we’re all worried about.”
Her husband then told the board, “This is a serious problem. …This is a problem people have been aware of for years and I would like to see actual steps and actual recording.”
He also expressed skepticism over the Foothills HOA board’s claim it was powerless to do anything without the Tapestry Canyon HOA since Foothills is the umbrella association.
A couple weeks after the August Foothills meeting, members of both HOA boards met at the mountainside.
Then, at last week’s Foothills HOA meeting, board member Gary Walker told residents he and his colleagues asked three engineering firms to examine the mountainside and submit reports by the end of the week.
He said the two HOA boards had “a very positive meeting” to discuss the mountainside, but added that the Foothills board is “not relying on Tapestry Canyon to resolve the issues.”
“We’re seeking proposals for both remediation and the costs associated with that remediation,” Walker said, adding:
“That’s an important part of the process and for the first time, we’ll actually be in a position to understand just how expensive it may or may not be to resolve the issue.”
But Walker also stressed that what each firm was providing is “not going to be the plan.”
“That’s the proposal to do the plan. So, then the next step will be to evaluate those proposals, select one or more of those to move forward.”
“In every instance where we met with an engineer, they were surprised they were given in no uncertain terms the urgency of the situation,” he continued.
“That’s really where we are right now: waiting for these engineers to give us proposals so that we can move forward and actually get tangible remediation plans and the associated costs for those remediation plans.”
One resident raised the issue as to whether the Foothills board’s lawyer, B. Austin Baillio, should have even been present during the discussion since his firm had represented Tapestry Canyon’s HOA in the past.
“There’s only a conflict if I’m representing them in this matter and I’m not,” Baillio replied. “I’m representing the board just as a general counsel… There was the potential conflict because we represented Tapestry at one point and we also represent the Foothills and they potentially have a conflict of interest in this scenario.
“So, because I’m not involved at all, it’s not a conflict for me just to sit here and listen..”
Meanwhile, it’s unclear how quickly the Foothills HOA board will move or where the Tapestry Canyon HOA stands.
A homeowner asked Walker last week, “Do you have an idea of how long you plan on valuation, selection?”
Walker replied, “Well, the urgency is there. It depends on what they say or depends on how consistent or inconsistent those proposals might be. And then it depends on the ways in which we can take action – that’s clearly a part of our challenge.
“We want urgency, but at the same time, we can’t move on those proposals on our own.”