As development of the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway has inched closer to a reality over the years, the proposed Pecos Alignment of the freeway has been most hotly debated because of the impending destruction to South Mountain itself. But many in Ahwatukee Foothills — on paper a part of the City of Phoenix, but ostensibly it’s own community of nearly 80,000 residents neighboring Tempe and Chandler — are also fearful of the state removing homes, businesses and a church to build the new freeway.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) says in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that an estimated 112 single-family homes, nine businesses and one church would be displaced by the freeway running where Pecos Road currently exists in Ahwatukee.
Any developer or land owner who has built along Pecos Road since 1985 has been informed of the possibility of a freeway, ADOT said. The state has even purchased some of the right of way through the years. ADOT says without consent from the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) to place the freeway on community land, Pecos Road is the only reasonable route. No other alternatives are mentioned in the DEIS.
Not always informed
Mike Middleton, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident and member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee, recalls watching a video about the South Mountain Freeway before he purchased his home in the right of way in 1996. Even with all the information before him, Middleton said they made a conscious decision to purchase a home they knew would some day be taken by the state.
“It was a good price,” Middleton said. “Our kids were really young so we had all the schools right in a line. My kids went from grade school to middle school to high school within walking distance. That was a great situation.”
Other homeowners near the proposed route have not been so well-informed. Dietmar Hanke purchased his lot in the Foothills Preserve in 2004 and moved into his home in 2005. About one month after he moved in he received a notice of an ADOT meeting at the Grace Inn. Only at that meeting did he discover that some day his view of the desert would be replaced by a freeway.
As a result of that news, coupled with hard financial times for builder Woodside Homes, Hanke’s home was never finished. For eight years he has lived in a home with a leaking shower, inspection holes in the ceiling, and no landscaping in the backyard. He never added finishing touches he had planned when the home was built.
“You think to yourself, ‘What’s the use?’” Hanke said. “I’m never going to get out of it what I put into it… When I bought the house I put down a huge down payment. If I would have opened the toilet eight years ago and flushed $100,000 down, I’d still be $60,000 ahead right now.”
Laura Limon said she was never told when she purchased her Foothills home two years ago that it may be close to the take line. Her home appears to be safe from destruction, but once the freeway is built it will be located directly across the street from her home. Her young daughter has asthma and Limon said she fears the pollution.
“We moved to Ahwatukee because it was isolated,” she said. “Had we known we might have moved to Scottsdale or something with a community like this where we weren’t in danger of moving right next to the freeway.”
Find a new home
ADOT’s DEIS addresses displaced homes with information from a study done on the real estate market in 2006. Even at that time ADOT admits the market in Ahwatukee was tight, but said 319 comparable listings could be found in the area for those losing their homes. It also mentions Tempe, Chandler and Gilbert as possible areas for homeowners to search for new homes.
Allen Henderson, a broker in Ahwatukee, said a comparison of today’s housing market to 2006 is impossible. Today’s market is very active with homes selling in hours instead of months. Doing a quick search Henderson said he found less than 250 listings available in all of Ahwatukee.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, however, interest rates are at record lows,” Henderson said. “Demand for nice Ahwatukee properties is high and prices are rising annually at double-digit rates. I can’t find nice homes for many of the buyers I am currently working with…
I anticipate that the Ahwatukee market will continue to have strong demand, with rising prices and low possibility that it could absorb the loss of 112 properties without displacing families out of Ahwatukee.”
Christie Ellis, designated broker for Sonoran Mountain Realty, predicted the same.
“With the expected population growth over the next 25 years, plus we are pass the glut of foreclosures and short sales, plus we are almost out of space to build in Ahwatukee, I am not sure what is going to cause a significant amount of resale to hit the market in the next few years,” she said.
ADOT predicts in the DEIS that a combination of newly built homes and available homes could accommodate displaced families, especially if acquisition happened over an extended period of time. That acquisition has already started.
Middleton said there are several homes in Goldman Ranch that have been purchased by ADOT when homeowners claimed financial hardship. That option was not presented to all homeowners and those homes now make it difficult for other owners to sell at a reasonable price.
“Everybody knows the freeway is coming,” he said. “No one is making a good offer to us. A lot of properties just go off the market because of the disclosure system. That’s how it’s been since the downturn of the economy.”
Hanke said ADOT-owned homes in his neighborhood have become an eyesore. There’s also been a lot of turnover since 2005 when homeowners in the Foothills Preserve found out about the freeway. That has depressed prices over the years. He said he has a price in mind that ADOT would have to pay him to take his home and as an attorney he’s prepared to defend that price in court.
ADOT said property owners will be compensated at fair market value for land and may be eligible for “additional benefits.”
Chad Blostone, a Foothills Homeowner Association member and member of the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team (SMCAT), said from his point of view those that do get bought out by ADOT will be the lucky ones. Those who are left close to the roadway will have to deal with a lot of undesirable noise.
ADOT studied noise from September 2003 to July 2004 during non-peak traffic hours. Meters were spaced about one mile apart all along the corridor. Noise levels were recorded in dBA, a logarithmic unit that expresses the ratio of sound pressure being measured to a standard reference level.
Ambient noise levels in 2003-04 measured between 44 and 56 dBA, according to the DEIS. If the freeway were built noise levels, with mitigation measures like 20-foot sound walls, would be between 59 and 70 dBA. The state is required to provide mitigation if the noise is above 64 dBA.
The loudest sections of the freeway would be on Foothills land where cars and trucks using the freeway would have to climb a hill. Further mitigation at those sites would require a noise wall taller than 20 feet, which would not meet ADOT’s Noise Abatement Policy, the statement says.
“They talk like this in all of the report,” Blostone said. “They say if you’re near the alignment you’re going to suffer some negative affects, but it’s about the greater good. They say that about noise, visual disturbance and with pollution. That’s just the way it goes.”
Blostone said if this route is used for the CANAMEX corridor (a corridor linking Canada to Mexico through the United States), though ADOT claims that’s not the plan, the noise could be even louder than ADOT’s projections.
Another issue Blostone and the Foothills HOA are concerned about is water. There is a well in the freeway right of way that feeds the Foothills five lakes. Some of that water is taken from the lakes to feed the Foothills Golf Course.
Owners of the golf course in the past have looked into using more well water, Blostone said. The course is watered mainly with potable water and supplemented with well water, but the well water is much cheaper.
When golf course owners tried digging new wells on the golf course in the ’90s they were unable to find water, Blostone said. From what he has seen Club West has not been able to find other sources of water, either. That course is run on potable water. Blostone said he fears if that well is taken away the lakes will go dry and the golf course will be forced to close down.
“ADOT makes the comment that it’s their opinion they’ll be able to replace that well,” Blostone said. “They have no data to back that up. The guys who live off the water have been drilling for it for years and haven’t been able to find it. It’s an inaccurate characterization by the team in my opinion.”
If ADOT is unable to find another source of water they’ll have to pay for water another way.
“These replacement water sources would probably prove more costly than the pumping of wells,” the statement says, “therefore, the difference between the costs of pumping the well and the new water source would be included in ADOT’s negotiations with the well owner.”
Blostone said he fears ADOT will not make a deal that lasts into perpetuity. Foothills would receive one lump sum for the well but would not have water into the future.
Homeowners along Pecos Road will not know the final take line of the freeway until the design phase. Right now, ADOT is accepting public comments about the DEIS through July 24. After that the comments will be put into a Final EIS, which will be used to petition the federal government for a Record of Decision on the freeway. ADOT hopes to begin construction in 2015.
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