Some Mandan Street residents are accusing city and county officials of misleading them over how much a $1.2 million project to prevent South Mountain runoff from flooding the neighborhood will encroach on their access to the Preserve behind their homes.
Resident Mike Kandora won’t even be able to walk out his back yard to the Preserve because a guardrail that’s part of the project will be so close to his property line that it will block a door from his backyard wall.
Kandora and some of his neighbors have implored the city to go back to the drawing board, but the Phoenix Public Works Department is moving ahead with the project.
Now, they are contemplating legal action against city on grounds the project reduces the value of their property.
Preserving the value of their property has been a key reason that city and county officials had been trying for five years to secure the $1 million Federal Emergency Management Administration grant to fund the project in the first place.
“If I’m looking for a house up against the park, I want access to the park,” said Kandora, who bought his home about three years ago. “That’s what I paid a premium for.”
Added another resident, “Blocking access or impeding views as a result of this project will undoubtedly be cause for residents to seek compensation for any loss thereof.”
Public Works officials say they have spent four years working with Mandan Street residents on the project.
“Since 2015, we have collaborated with the Flood District to host community meetings regarding this project,” Public Works spokesman Yvette Roeder said.
“There were many opportunities for the residents to express their suggestions and ask questions,” she added, explaining:
“The goal of the project has always been twofold: to mitigate the flood risk of the properties, while minimizing the impacts of the project on the preserve. We believe the current design addresses all of those and we have incorporated and/or considered all the other Mandan residents’ suggestions and concerns.”
Some residents criticized the plan when it was rolled out at a neighborhood meeting in Ahwatukee last October, although Kandora and neighbor Dave Jeary said officials from the city and the Maricopa County Flood Control District never told them the project would be located within inches of their property line.
The project involves the installation of an 18-foot-wide concrete channel running behind the homes that will be about 3 feet below grade.
Although officials indicated at the meeting that there would be a 3-foot-wide walkway for cyclists and pedestrians between the backyards and the edge of the channel, that apparently is no longer the case.
A well-worn path made by horses, bicycles and hikers just behind the homes will be obliterated by the project.
During the meeting last October, homeowners complained about a planned guard rail along the channel, saying it would ruin their view of the Preserve. But officials said city law requires a fence near any drop that’s at least 18 inches deep to prevent people, particularly children, from falling into the channel.
Officials also said two other considerations require them to locate the channel where they plan.
APS has a high voltage line behind the homes and was adamant that nothing impinges on a 120-foot-wide right-of-way beneath the line.
Within that right-of-way, AP at any given day brings a monster of a truck it uses to service the power line towers.
The truck is heavy that it requires four stabilizing pads when its 120-foot-high crane is in operation. Each pad bears 180,000 pounds.
To build the channel too close to that right of way not only threatened APS’ right of way, but also risked a collapse of the channel walls because the truck’s weight could dislodge the ground beneath it, officials said at the meeting.
If a wall was built too close to the APS right-of- way, a county Flood Control District told residents, it would have to be so thick that the cost would be well beyond what any of the government agencies could afford.
The city Parks and Recreation Board also had its own concerns: It wanted no structure encroaching onto the preserve beyond the APS power line.
“We all love that park so much,” one city Parks and Recreation Department official told residents last October. “We’re trying to make this thing happen in as narrow a space as possible.”
Roeder said the concerns for preservation of the Preserve had been laid out to residents since early 2016.
“We pointed out the importance of minimal disturbance to the South Mountain Park and Preserve,” she said, “how we would maintain the project and our intent to re-vegetate and restore the preserve in conjunction with flood mitigation; we determined the public access points into the preserve for potential trail connections; and the significant utilities this project had to deal, such as future SRP and APS operations.”
Kandora and Jeavy contend that they and their neighbors would prefer there would be no project at all, contending that the flooding danger has been exaggerated.
During heavy rains in the fall of 2014, several homes were damaged by water, but Jeavy, who has lived there more than 10 years, said it was caused by a resident who had built a pickleball court and left no way for water to drain.
Consequently, he said, water pooled and eventually went over the wall and into some homes.
Another rain in 2016 sent water into a home whose owners had just finished remodeling from that 2014 flood.
Though Kandora and Jeavy said countless numbers of people who live in the neighborhood use the makeshift path that will be obliterated by the project.
But city officials said that path is part of the network of illegal “spider trails” that hikers and bikers have created by riding and walking where they’re not supposed to.
“We also would like to point out that park access from residential backyards was not a consideration when designing this project because the City Charter (Ch. 26) states that access to any Mountain Preserve is only allowed at designated and established entry/exit points,” Roeder said.
“Therefore, providing access to the Preserve from residents’ backyards is actually a violation of the City code.”
Sam Stone, chief of staff to city Councilman Sal DiCiccio, noted that same prohibition, although he added that his office would seek to terminate the project – if the homeowners requested it.
“I get the sense residents weren’t fully made aware of the scope of the project up front, and thought initially it would something like a concrete lined ditch they could easily walk through, and the plans when they came out are clearly not that,” Stone said.
“That’s on the City, and they should have done a much better job of explaining the entire scope of the project upfront.”
Stone said, “We’re pretty much limited to either fighting to not have it happen – which so far residents have not been calling us for – and turning it down or going with the plans the City has laid out. If residents were telling us to oppose the thing entirely, we would, although they would probably need to sign a waiver absolving Phoenix from responsibility in any flooding event.”
“Placement of the drainage infrastructure is very limited by the Preserve boundary, and an APS / SRP power corridor. For the guardrail, we’re happy to push for any aesthetic improvements that might be suggested but, since the engineers say we need a guardrail to meet safety requirements, there’s no way to eliminate it from the project entirely.”
As for accessing the Preserve from their backyards, Stone echoed Roeder.
“What the homeowners there have been doing in accessing it through their backyards is illegal – it’s not a law the City makes all that much effort to enforce, but at the same time they can’t create an access point as part of this project, either, unless it were made into an official trailhead. Given our experience with the Cholla Trail on Camelback, I’d tell the residents to run for their lives if anyone started pushing that idea.”
Jeavy and Kandora, however, are not persuaded by the arguments.
“It all boils down to the Parks and Rec Department trying to control the traffic to the parks,” Jeavy said, adding “that sets a precedence for other communities that are on some kind of park.”