Residents of San Tan Valley, San Tan Foothills and Queen Creek could determine the fate of a pristine, undeveloped desert area known as Box Canyon, according to a press release issued last week by Friends of San Tan Mountain Regional Park.
Box Canyon is located to the West of San Tan Mountain Regional Park and was annexed by the Town of Queen Creek in 1998 in order to “preserve its natural and cultural attributes,” according to the release.
At 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 19, Queen Creek Town Council will vote on the proposed General Plan Amendments which concern the area in question. If the vote passes, the Box Canyon area could be opened up to increased development which may include a master planned community with approximately 3,783 homes and a hotel or resort site.
Current plans call for a very low density cap at 0 to 1.0 dwellings per acre, but if the Amendment passes, the density cap will be raised to 1.8 dwellings per acre, which can also be increased in additional future votes by the Town Council if so desired.
Friends of San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the cultural, historical and ecological resources in and around the park.
The group is opposed to development of Box Canyon because the area in question is untouched desert, and development impacts may alter the ecosystem, as well as the cultural and historical resources in the area.
In addition, the costs to add infrastructure and widen roads would be enormous and would rest on the developer, according to the group, which fears that the development could potentially turn into just another subdivision that would increase sprawl and damage the desert.
Maricopa County Parks and Recreation also opposes the project for reasons which include inadequate open space, poor access to Hunt Highway, problems with emergency access, significant and unaddressed impacts on ecological, historical and cultural resources and a nonexistent buffer between the park and the development.
The Friends of San Tan Mountain Regional Park is hoping residents in San Tan Valley, San Tan Foothills and the Queen Creek area will oppose increased development in Box Canyon and make their voices heard at Queen Creek Town Hall, 22350 S. Ellsworth Road, during Wednesday’s meeting.
According to Wayne Balmer, the town’s planning administrator, the area called “Box Canyon” is actually a large area owned by 10 people. The owners came together and decided to collectively sell the land as one piece rather than 10 separate lots.
In order to pursue sale of the land, in 2007, the town amended that area to include a possible site for a master planned community with low dwelling density and a site for a high class resort that respects and integrates the desert surroundings.
Balmer acknowledges that if a buyer is to be seriously interested in purchasing that area as a whole, there has to be some sort of development guideline. Raising the density level will allow a developer to seriously look into purchasing the entire 2,000-acre plot instead of breaking it up into 10 separate lots.
Balmer also stated the planners want to avoid the area turning into just another subdivision, but also stated that having 10 separate developers, without an overall objective or development guideline for the area, would be worse.
“We really want to avoid selling that land to 10 different buyers when we could have one unified vision for that area. The master planned community and the resort will be similar to environmentally friendly and beautiful resorts in the Tucson foothills which actually integrate with the desert surroundings. Increasing the density level in the Box Canyon area is only to be used as a guideline for potential investors and developers looking at that area.”
• Bridgette Crosby is a writer who lives in and loves the Queen Creek/San Tan Valley area. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.