Box Canyon development won’t have horse amenities

I have had the opportunity to call this town home for the last 14 years. I moved here after evaluating my options of where to call home after accepting a job in Chandler as a small animal internist. Queen Creek promised the lifestyle I so desired. Small town, rural community, lack of the hustle and bustle. I was able to work in the city and go home to my rural town home without a forever commute. In my research, I found that Queen Creek incorporated in order to preserve the benefits of rural life while providing an avenue for managed change.

Sadly, I have watched the original town vision statement of: “Queen Creek’s interconnected network of parks, trails, open spaces and recreation opportunities provide safe and diverse activities and programs that sustain its unique, small town, equestrian agricultural character centered around the natural beauty of the Queen Creek and Sonoqui washes and San Tan Mountains” set forth years ago, go by the wayside.

I am not sure, but some of the changes deviating from that original vision were possibly due to individual gains — I hope I am wrong — instead of for the gains of the residents making up the town. I do find it disturbing that the vision statements can change in such a whimsical fashion and that the town council members and commissioners are not fastidious in upholding, or at least conscientiously trying to maintain, that vision they were selected to protect. Progress does not necessarily mean giving into urbanization and shrinking all rural space.

I am hopeful that the input from the town’s people is something that gets heard and does not get thrown by the wayside because of egos and profits. I have attended numerous meetings during my tenure of living here and have found that it does seem that the residents only have a small voice in being heard despite the Queen Creek value statements stating that town offers:

“Quality service that is honest, trustworthy, professional, fair and efficient
Unified vision for the future through ongoing community dialogue
Empathetic listening to the needs and concerns of the community
Enthusiastic application of creativity to find solutions
Never missing an opportunity to assist a customer
Communication that is honest, timely and accurate
Responsibility for personal actions and recognizing their impact on the workplace and community
Encourage involvement by all to ensure that the diversity of the community is represented in decision making
Environmentally sound planning and practices that will ensure natural resources for future generations
Kindness in all dealings with residents, customers, partners and employees”

I bring forth my comments and concerns to you so that you may be empathetic with the local residents as you contemplate the future of Queen Creek. Maybe with gentle persuasion, the town can get back on track to that original vision set forth by those that wanted to protect what made this town truly unique and the reason why we wanted to live here.

Many, like me, had moved here because of the promise of a preserved rural lifestyle. But our voices have grown small as the town has grown large. Others have moved because of the housing boom and to take advantage of the cheap housing. The big box stores followed.

As I have been told, this is what is termed progress by those individuals who are in favor of development by getting as many houses and buildings on the smallest amount of land. Progress can also be a measure of preservation and calculated growth that includes growth of conserved areas, expansion of open spaces and not those of more people and houses.

The Box Canyon Master Planned Community Project in its present state as set forth by (legal counsel) Sean Lake of Pew & Lake, seems to move away from the aforementioned vision put forth by the Queen Creek Founders. Superficially, the proposal attempts to paint a picture of this community project as fitting into Queen Creek’s vision:

“This project has been designed to comply with the primary objectives of the town of Queen Creek’s General Plan Land Use Element: namely, the maintenance and enhancement of the character of Queen Creek; providing housing for the forecasted population, enhancing the built environment and preserving the natural environment to create an attractive community that is sought after for its high quality of life. By adopting the Box Canyon PCD, the General Plan Land Use element will be carefully implemented and will provide for: a unified aesthetic which will be reflective of Queen Creek’s unique historic and agrarian character; an array of different land use designations which will provide housing opportunities for a variety income levels; new and innovative subdivisions which will enhance the built environment; the preservation of desert washes and native topography which will promote and preserve the San Tan Foothills character.”

This may sound good to those who do not read between the lines, but it is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After attending two-thirds of the neighborhood meetings, the P&Z meeting on Aug. 10 and listening to Mr. Lake’s presentation and resident rebuttals, I fear that this plan, as it seems to be heading, will be helping to produce a community that is no more different from those of Gilbert and Chandler and be consistent with a more urban theme. This development, as it stands, is the antithesis to the original Vision Statement set forth by your predecessors.

Do we want to overpopulate our area or do we want to preserve its rural air? This project’s location is far from ideal for providing housing for projected population growth expected in the years to come. It is in a “box.”  This project seems to lack sound environmental planning that will preserve our treasured natural resources for our future generations. The property location is in an area that is more consistent with the outskirts of town, in an area that is considered to be more rural, more country and less populated. It is located outside the natural boundaries of what we would consider city center and where one would expect a development of this density and make-up.

As portrayed by one of the property owners and Mr. Lake, this is private property and, as we were told at the neighborhood and P&Z meetings, they have the right to develop the property, but not, as “however they” want. They do have the right to go through the process, to make proposals and gain approval and acceptance for what they propose.

This is where you as the town council can encourage changes to what Box Canyon Project owners propose. Queen Creek has a responsibility to see that this project is developed in a manner true to the vision of why Queen Creek was incorporated to begin with. Changes may be made to this project that can make this a better community for the town and for those living around the development area.

Instead of rubber-stamping approvals for this project in order to hurry up and “get ‘er done,” I encourage you as the town council of Queen Creek to look deeply in how this project, in its current state of proposal, would be outside of the original vision of Queen Creek. This project should be encouraged to make itself a truly unique opportunity and be outside the “box.”  It should strive to be different from the multitude of master planned cookie cutter communities that offer nothing different from a name on the placard at the entrance of the community, three to five floor plans to pick from, big houses on tiny lots, with neighbors so close that you can see into your neighbors’ window that looks nowhere else but into yours.

Mr. Lake has stated The Box Canyon Project will not have horse properties.

Queen Creek has a wonderful equestrian park and should continue to strive to support this notion in motion. There is a positive aspect of the equestrian industry on counties, towns and states that have these. By developing Box Canyon Project to include equestrian friendly features and homes, the town of Queen Creek could take advantage of a proven positive economic impact for the town, continue to support the wonderful Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Center and continue to maintain the rural lifestyle many people seek as they try to relocate outside of the city proper and urban locations.

Equestrian-friendly properties in close proximity to the equestrian center, the San Tan Mountain Regional Park and connected trails would encourage these usually high income earners to relocate to this town and this area. There would be the perk of being so close to the rural lifestyle they so yearn, but be able to drive only a short commute to go to work in the crowded city (that is not Queen Creek).

Many people like me moved here to have horses, be close to trails and the San Tan Mountain Regional Park and have the rural lifestyle Queen Creek offered and promised to hold. After all, it was my incentive to move here. Generations to come should be able to enjoy that same original plan that I came into when I moved to Queen Creek.

The interconnected comprehensive trail system has seemed to have fallen by the wayside as Queen Creek has gotten into the “hurry up and build it” mentality at the expense of patient planning and conservation of the original town plan. As a matter of fact, I was out riding a few weekends ago and saw a fellow equestrian. He said we were getting boxed in and was disappointed in the fact QC has not developed its interconnected trail system for all to enjoy. Yes, there are people who still live here that have notice that the town of Queen Creek has let us down.

One of the P&Z gentlemen was wrong when he stated the equestrian community has enough places to ride. But we don’t. Queen Creek promised interconnected trails for all its communities and people to enjoy. Now dirt roads have given way to pavements and trails to concrete sidewalks. Horse people have been getting boxed in by gated communities and walls.

Equestrian homes are getting walled off from their ability to access any available trail. Many are left to trailer out or ride along side of very busy roads and are at the mercy of discourteous drivers in a hurry to get wherever they are going. I hope that Queen Creek is still promising to develop an all encompassing community trail system.

Mr. Lake presented the Box Canyon project as having a multitude of trail systems for its residents to use. But these will not be for all the people of Queen Creek to enjoy. Mr. Lake clearly stated that, although “trail police” will not be patrolling these trails, the system would not be horse-friendly and the trails not manufactured to support their use.

As you can see, this establishes boundaries that not all residents of Queen Creek are welcome within this development despite its touting connection with the San Tan Mountain Regional Park system and the Maricopa Trail. The whole town should be connected (as it had promised) for all to use, even in this area that is set away from the center of the town.

If this area is to be part of Queen Creek, then it should be developed to be friendly and allow all that live in the town to enjoy. Why can’t this large 2,000-acre development have some horse amenities, trails and incorporate master-planned horse communities (like an improved Will Rogers) and properties amidst the other master-planned communities within their development?

The Box Canyon Project representatives also boasted of it preserving 30 percent of the property as open spaces. On a closer look, these “preserved” areas are actually mountainsides that housing projects cannot be built on.

Another suggestion to improve the nature of this project can be by leaving some of the flat, presently dwelling allocated spaces, undeveloped to promote a more riparian-like preserve around the washes for the sake of the local wildlife and beauty of the area. Consideration for restoring the original 0.8 dwelling units would discourage the human overcrowding of this unique area and give way to actually preserving a diversity of open spaces.

By including larger interior swaths of undeveloped desert space, the project could maintain a more rural appearance and discourage excessive traffic and pollution. This would also help maintain the expectation the city should keep their high density developments and commercialism near the center of town, thus preserving the rural expectations as one moves to the outskirts of town.

Changes one way does not mean you cannot change back. Let us keep the town as the original vision “saw,” and why we moved here. Let’s avoid encouraging higher density development for preservation. It will help our town be clean, uncongested, unique and preserved. The place where we want to live.

In speaking with some of the San Tan park users the other day, they were generally broken-hearted to think they would be looking over a master-planned community and commercial development as opposed to the vast open and beautiful desert. Park users are not necessarily from the town of Queen Creek proper, but they come here to get away from the “city.”

Ultimately, I am sure these people also stop in town on the way home, helping contribute to the economics of the town. In decreasing the overall density of the housing and increasing the preservation of wide open and natural space in this project, it would help to make it less of an eye sore for those that visit Queen Creek and use the San Tan Mountain Regional Park system.

The 100-foot “buffer” around the development seems to be another attempt for local resident appeasement. A wider swath of land in the proposed buffer zone would help preserve the wide-open space feel. That alone would likely help to quell the nearby local residents that moved to their present locations to be “away” from the city, to live in their dream homes and enjoy the natural beauty of the area, not roof tops and backyards.

When it comes to the water flow and the traffic, I am definitely no expert. What looks good on paper does not necessarily hold true when put to the test of reality. The wide boundaries of washes are as wide as Mother Nature intends them to be.

I think the residents downstream from this project can readily attest to the effects of flooding they have already had to contend with. Having lived here as long as I have, one would only have to go as far as to ask the residents of the Goldmine Estates to gain their opinion on what Mother Nature wants when it comes to water flow. I know the finest engineers were hired to “engineer” this project, but we have seen where the finest engineers have failed when trying to harness Mother Nature.

The dual traffic flow circles seem to be an attempt mask the fact that there is only one true opening into this area. Again, “paid” engineers have presented that these will allow for a “normal” flow of traffic in and out and around the development area. I think “paid” people can tell you whatever you want hear regardless of whether it will really work.

These aforementioned issues would be additional reasons to limit the density of this project to be more suitable for the area.
I don’t expect the whole project not to happen. It is going to happen. As we are told over and over again, this is part of “progress.”

I know I speak for myself and a large population of similarly minded people that live in this area. Please consider decreasing the density of the project ultimate housing density, increasing the buffer and wide-open spaces to preserve the beauty of the desert (to include hillsides, mountainsides, flat lands and washes), and give consideration for the inclusion of the equestrian lifestyle — and economic benefit — in this proposal. Since this project is going to happen, let’s make sure we do it right.

I have summarized my concerns I have about this project including how it seems to be “walled” off from the rest of Queen Creek, the lack of consideration given to the actual preservation of the Sonoran Desert and the seeming disregard on how this project affects the surrounding residents by the increased traffic and flood control issues.

Queen Creek does make it difficult for our opinion to be heard as evidenced by the multitude of objections when I attended the recent P&Z meeting for this project and past town council meetings of 2008 to changes being proposed to the general plan. Despite the vast majority of the attendees voicing objections to many of the proposals, the changes in favor of the proposals happened anyway.

Why do you say you want opinions and comments on something if no one wants to listens? You should poll the individuals that have been here for years. Those that helped to make the town in the beginning. Please consider truly listening to the people that helped make your town, instead of those that moved out here for cheap, cookie-cutter housing and those that have deep pockets to persuade the council’s vote.

By making some changes to the Box Canyon Project that reflect the general guise of what Queen Creek was incorporated for would mean you truly are listening to the needs and concerns of its residents.

Shery D. Babyak
Queen Creek

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