November 16, 2004
After listening to hours of testimony Monday night, the Mesa City Council decided to put off a vote until January about a contentious proposal that would clear some of Mesa’s oldest citrus groves for houses.
The area in question for a general plan amendment is just north of the city limits, and contains 314 acres of citrus groves, most of which would be replaced by 1,700 to 2,100 single-family homes and some business.
Dr. Rodney Engel, who owns the bulk of the land, said the citrus farms have not been profitable for several years due to competition from California.
"This is probably the oldest citrus grove in the Valley, and I knew that when we were going to have to change it, it was going to be very contentious," he said. "And it has been even more so than I thought."
The land sits between two gravel mine. Most of the testimony concentrated on the noise, dust, and truck traffic from the mining operation.
Residents of the Lehi neighborhood to the west favor a general plan amendment as their last, best hope to keep Engel and other property owners from selling to the mines.
However, those in the "Citrus area" to the south object to how many houses would be built, saying there must be a better way to stop the mines.
Attorney Nick Wood, representing Vulcan, a mining company in the process of buying a pit east of Lehi Farms, said the mining operations oppose the plan because it would be bad for the future homeowners.
Some residents said the mining companies did not express the same concerns when they began digging gravel pits close to the homes already there.
Some council members indicated how they were leaning.
Tom Rawles said he supported the landowner’s right to do what he wishes with the land and would support the amendment. Mayor Keno Hawker said he was generally supportive, but felt the housing densities were too high. Rex Griswold said he understood residents don’t want to see more mining, but has reservations about allowing homes to be built next to the existing mines.
Councilman Mike Whalen suggested that Engel could apply for annexation into the city, which would soothe the fears of those afraid that he will sell to the mining industry. The land is under the jurisdiction of Maricopa County. The city would have more power to regulate or stop mines.
The council also voted to put off a vote on another general plan amendment on the agenda until January. This is a 75-acre parcel at Signal Butte and Elliot roads.
This is part of an area along the north side of Elliot Road, between Signal Butte and Ellsworth roads, which has long been in dispute. Developers who own it want to build homes, but city officials contend that the land is too close to the Williams Gateway Airport flight path.