What Marshall Stone likes best about his new home is he can look up at night and see the stars.
Kevin Treacy likes to relax on his porch without hearing any of the noise, sirens and bustle of the urban world.
How long they will enjoy their serenity is anyone’s guess. Both work in the East Valley, but they live in Maricopa, a once-tiny farming community in Pinal County south of Ahwatukee Foothills that is growing by leaps and bounds.
Separated from the Valley metropolitan area by the 16-mile wide Gila River Indian Community, Maricopa’s population has grown from about 1,000 residents a few years ago to nearly 6,000 today.
But that may be just the start. By the end of next year, city officials expect the population will explode to 24,000. By 2010 it may be nearly 60,000. In 20 years, the projections are 185,000 residents.
In effect, the urban sprawl of the Phoenix metropolitan is leaping over the Indian reservation and taking root in northwestern Pinal County.
A wide four-lane highway connects Maricopa with the East Valley, giving commuters a fast drive to and from jobs in Tempe, Chandler, Ahwatukee and elsewhere.
Being on the fringe of the metro area means that homes are 15 percent to 20 percent cheaper than a similar sized home would cost in the East Valley.
And the services that follow residential construction — groceries, drug stores, hospitals — are starting to move in, providing more conveniences of suburban life.
Stone, a sales manager for a printing business at Priest Drive and Broadway Road in Tempe, said he can get to work in 25 minutes. His wife, who works at an vision care company at Chandler Boulevard and Interstate 10, needs even less time.
"It’s a lot closer than Queen Creek is to my office," he said. "We were able to get a good golf course view lot for not a lot of money. And it’s interesting to be in on the ground floor of a new community that’s going to grow rapidly."
About the only negative he has found is the cost of electricity is higher than in the Valley. He also said there are occasional conflicts between newcomers and long-time residents who don’t want to see the community lose its rural flavor.
But people are adjusting to the boomtown atmosphere, he said.
"People are realizing what their property is worth now," he said.
Although property values are increasing, land and homes are still cheaper than in the Valley. Treacy, who owns roller skating rinks in Chandler, Mesa and Glendale, said a lower home price was what drew him to Maricopa.
"I view it as an oasis for myself," he said. "If you want city hustle and bustle, it’s a short trip. If you want to be secluded and not worry about noise, it offers that too. It’s the best of both worlds."
There are some drawbacks, he said. Being a newly developing city that was only incorporated in October, it still lacks a lot of the services that can be found closer to the Valley. But he sees an advantage in that because "we are in the beginning stages, and we can build what we want."
Maricopa is probably the fastest growing city in Arizona with about 300 building permits being issued every month, said Mayor Edward Farrell. The city has attracted 39 home builders, and no less than 83,000 homes have been plated and approved within the 21-square-mile city limits.
Many of the buyers are first-time home owners taking advantage of low prices and low interest rates, Farrell said.
Among the major housing developments springing up in Maricopa are:
• Rancho El Dorado, a development of El Dorado Holdings of Phoenix. About 3,500 homes have been built, and the neighborhood will have about 6,000 homes when completed. Among the amenities are an 18-hole golf course, golf shop, restaurant and elementary school. A 30-parcel is available for commercial development.
• Cobblestone Farms, a development of Fulton Homes. About 40 homes have been built. The community will have more than 1,000 when completed.
• Acacia Crossings, a master-planned community by Shea Homes. About 300 homes are completed. A shopping center with a Bashas’ grocery is under construction and expected to open by August.
• Province Villages, a community catering to residents at least 55 years old, by Engle Homes. About 150 homes have been built so far, and the community will have more than 1,000 homes when built out.
• Alterra by Lennar Community Development. Site preparation work has started on this community, which will have more than 1,000 homes.
Several other housing developments are "within days" of starting construction, Farrell said.
Major projects also are popping up just outside the city limits too. An East Valley-based investor group is developing a new airpark called Phoenix Regional Airport along Highway 347 between Maricopa and Casa Grande. The three-squaremile project will be a combination of Scottsdale Airpark and Stellar Airpark with both housing and commercial/ industry around it, said Scott Ries, president of Phoenix Regional Airport LLC.
So far, the developer has laid out a 5,000-foot paved runway and a turf runway beside it for sport pilots. Also started is a small industrial park, and a few hangars have been installed. Ries said home building could begin in late summer or the fall.
"We will try to attract commuters, similar to Anthem north of Phoenix," Ries said.
Farrell hopes that an industrial area will develop around the airport to supply jobs for the newcomers.
Another possible job creator could be a joint hospitalcommunity college-city hall campus planned with Central Arizona College and Casa Grande Regional Medical Center. The three entities could save money by sharing facilities such as parking and board rooms, Farrell said. The mayor is confident that sufficient resources, including water, are available to support the big plans.
Because farmers have been using Colorado River water through the Central Arizona Project, the area has not tapped the underground aquifer for years, and the level of the underground water table has actually risen, he said. Also, the city may require conservation efforts such as installing watersaving devices in new homes, he said. Another possibility is to buy water from the neighboring Indian tribes.
Critics of the relentlessly spreading urbanization say Arizonans should be more concerned about the impact it has on the state’s resources and air quality.
"There are a lot of people in denial about water in Arizona," said Sandy Bahr, conservation director for the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club. "We can get away with it in the short term, but we need to get serious for the long term. The current system will not serve future generations or the environment."
She said more work could be done with infill development within Valley cities, adding that "we want our children to have open spaces, wildlife habitats, clean air. We can’t do that if we continue to sacrifice quality of life on the alter of growth for the stake of growth."
But many residents of communities that are experiencing rapid growth for the first time welcome the change.
"We have been expecting this for so long, I’m just glad it’s finally happening," said Maricopa Vice Mayor Brent Murphree.