Cave Creek voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a new general plan and a $50 million financing package for a major water and sewer system expansion but turned down extended terms for the mayor and Town Council members.
Mayor Vincent Francia said he’s particularly elated about the strong support for the general plan.
Seven of 10 voters favored it.
More than six out 10 voters favored the water facilities expansion. All voting results are unofficial.
The general plan sets the framework for the town to pursue annexation of 11 square miles with the goal of protecting sizable tracts of open space and buffering Cave Creek from urban development heading its way from Phoenix.
Approval of the bond program water projects also will allow the town to more closely control development, Francia said.
"This community has made it clear it will decide its own future. On the surface this was a bond issue and general plan, but everybody knew it was really about a lot more than that," he said.
Councilwoman Grace Meeth said the annexation and the water facilities are critical to Cave Creek’s efforts to preserve its rural atmosphere.
The annexation "is a once in a lifetime opportunity" to protect open space.
And without the bond program "it would cost the town a lot more money in interest rates" to expand water services, Meeth said.
Ten of the 11 acres Cave Creek wants to annex are state trust land. Town officials are working with the Arizona State Land Department on a plan calling for more than half the land to be designated as protected open space.
In exchange for the open space, Cave Creek would allow denser development on some other parcels than existing zoning permits. That would increase the sales value of those parcels so the state land department could realize increased financial benefit.
The water system expansion plan is tied to a separate effort in which the town is pursuing acquisition of a private water company.
Opponents of the propositions have argued that the annexation and the water system plans will instead erode Cave Creek’s rural lifestyle and put the town at financial risk.
Former Town Council member David Phelps said the town will be making a risky investment by purchasing a private water company. He said costs will force the town to increase water rates significantly within a few years.
Sara Vannucci, leader of a political action committee that opposed the general plan, said the trade off for open space opens the way for the same kind of commercial development that Cave Creek leaders feared Phoenix would permit if it were to annex the state land instead.
Phelps said the annexation plan will require Cave Creek to provide some infrastructure on state lands, which also will strain the town’s finances.
But supporters of the propositions said Cave Creek voters educated themselves on the issues and many understood that opponents’ arguments are misleading.
Members of political action committees backing the propositions conducted more than 15 public forums in recent months, said George Ross, a leading supporter.
He pointed out that in the March election voters chose four new council members and three incumbents who favor the annexation and water facilities plans.
Even though the annexation plan would allow more development in some areas, it will be in a more environmentally sensitive fashion than would have been done by Phoenix, said Sue Mueller, director of the Black Mountain Conservancy, a local preservation advocacy group.
The propositions on mayor and council terms would have extended the terms from 2 to 4 years.
Francia said he’s satisfied with voters’ decision to turn down the proposed extensions.
"Two years is enough," he said.