January 17, 2005
Mesa City Council members will try for the second time Tuesday to make a wrenching choice on a 315-acre citrus orchard.
Should they allow about 1,700 houses be built between two gravel pits, possibly affecting the quality of thousands of lives? Or should they take the risk that mining will overtake the area and further aggravate those already living there?
The council held a public hearing in November, but put off the vote in the hope these issues would be ironed out.
"Bottom line is, this is a horrible decision to have to make," Vice Mayor Claudia Walters said.
The land in question is called Lehi Farms and is between Loop 202 and the Val Vista Water Treatment Plant. It is just outside the city limits, but within the area covered by Mesa’s general plan. Four families own the land, and builder William Lyon Homes has an option to buy it.
The council will be voting on a general plan amendment to change use from business and apartments to singlefamily housing.
If the council approves, then the homes can be built and perhaps the area would be annexed into the city. If it’s annexed, Mesa will have the power Maricopa County doesn’t to prohibit mining.
But if the council doesn’t approve, the owners could choose to stay in the county and sell to companies that mine the Salt River bed’s aggregate rock.
The landowners’ attorney, Paul Gilbert, presents this possibility as inevitable, with mining firms willing to pay top dollar.
But mining interests say they don’t want to mine next to homes any more than homeowners want to live next to them.
Nick Woods, an attorney for Vulcan Materials Inc., under contract to buy the gravel mine just east of Lehi Farms, denies Vulcan’s real interest is in buying the land.
Arizona Rock Products Association president Rusty Bowers said it’s not inevitable the industry will move on the land if it becomes available.
"There’s been some talk that some of that land has so much silt in there that it’s not attractive for mining," Bowers said.
The plan has split nearby neighborhoods, plus the city planning board sent a 3-3 nonrecommendation to the council.
Councilman Rex Griswold said he can’t support the plan because there isn’t enough separation between the homes and the mining.
Councilwoman Janie Thom said she doesn’t like its higher-density housing or the "scare tactics" she says developers are using by threatening to sell to the mines.
Councilman Tom Rawles said he will support amending the plan because he supports the landowners’ rights to do what they wish.
The remaining members were noncommittal Friday, and eleventh-hour proposals were still being aired.