Arlin Troutt does not fit society’s definition of a model citizen. Troutt is by his own account an aging hippie; he once ran a business making shoes out of hemp and was a conscientious objector who dodged the Vietnam War draft.
He is an unapologetic former pot smuggler and smoker who believes marijuana use should be legal. He has spent years in state and federal prison for disregarding the fact that it is not.
Troutt has paid his dues to the system for those trespasses, but he says the establishment his generation taught him to distrust — including rich businessmen, bureaucrats, lawyers, and the police, as well as his own mother — have now descended upon his family.
The 56-year-old Gold Canyon resident says surrounding landowners are determined to acquire his family’s property and have been working with Pinal County law enforcement to harass and run them off.
“We’ve got these cultures colliding,” he says, “but the problem is their culture has money and our culture doesn’t.”
And it is arguably the smartest lifestyle choice Troutt ever made — placing a $1,500 down payment on about 5 acres of Superstition Foothills land in 1972 — that he says led to the family’s current troubles.
Thirty-five years ago, the property was valued at $27,000. Now, it’s likely worth at least $1 million. The Troutts are not alone among longtime property owners in fast-growing areas such as Gold Canyon who have clashed with land investors buying and building for profit.
But David Farney, attorney for Troutt’s estranged mother, Mary Ann Troutt, says it is the younger Troutts’ greed that has led to their current problems, and not interference from other landowners or county officials.
Greed is what prompted them to force the family matriarch out of the house she called home for 35 years, Farney says.
All agree that a bitter disagreement over the property’s rightful owner has split the family apart.
Meanwhile, neighboring property owners of the Troutt homestead say they are being treated like invaders when all they want is to coexist. Their biggest concern is that the Troutts want to prohibit them from accessing their land via the area’s only passable dirt road, known as Yaqui Lane.
The Troutts say those neighbors have exploited their family dispute by signing unenforceable agreements with Mary Ann Troutt, trespassing, destroying property and hauling heavy construction equipment across their land.
Confrontations have ensued. Harsh words have been exchanged, complaints lodged, and lawsuits filed. A criminal charge is pending.
Arlin Troutt says neighboring land investors want his property and have tried unsuccessfully to goad him into a physical confrontation by bringing construction equipment onto his land and attempting to bulldoze his septic drain field.
“We are the old hippie dinosaurs who need to get down off the hill,” he said.
The Troutts’ property is flanked to the east by land belonging to Gold Canyon attorney J. Jeff Richardson and a group of investment partners known as Pacific Vista LLC and Gold Canyon Vistas LLC, and by property to the northwest owned by California oncologist Dr. Andrew Norris.
Mary Ann Troutt had signed agreements to allow those neighbors access via a dirt road that skirts the Troutt’s residential lot, but Arlin Troutt, his wife, Cathy Gray-Troutt, and adult son, William Duffy Troutt, dispute the validity of those agreements because they say the family matriarch was not the property’s rightful owner at the time she made them.
Richardson says he and Norris have offered to move Yaqui Lane and pave it, splitting the cost with the Troutts, but they are not agreeing to any deals.
“They’re trying to use our private driveway for their construction vehicles,” Arlin Troutt said. “They’re even advertising these homes as having paved roads right through our property.”
The dispute erupted into a face-to-face confrontation on Dec. 6, when Richardson hired a contractor to move the road without the Troutts’ consent, and Arlin Troutt was subsequently charged with disorderly conduct. He said it was for calling Pinal County sheriff’s deputy A. Goode “despicable,” because Goode was taking Richardson’s side in the matter. The charge is still pending, and the sheriff’s office did not return calls seeking comment.
“We’ve been here for 35 years,” Arlin Troutt says. “Why wouldn’t police automatically side with the person who’s been here for 35 years?”
According to Arlin, Cathy and Duffy Troutt, the trouble began when Mary Ann Troutt decided she wanted to split off a few pieces of the family real estate and sell them.
Arlin Troutt says the property is rightfully his even though it had always been in his mother’s name, explaining that when he bought it he was hiding out from the military.
He had always intended for it to be held in trust and passed on from one generation to the next, he says, and so now it should belong to his eldest son.
But Farney, the lawyer representing 80-year-old Mary Ann Trout, says she and her now-deceased husband were the ones who actually paid off the land.
They also raised their son’s children with little financial help for years while Arlin Troutt was in prison, Farney said.
She finally agreed to sell grandson Duffy Troutt the 2.5 acres upon which the house sits for a mere $130,000, while also contributing $54,000 to pay off his credit-card debt.
But due to an error on one of the three legal documents involved in a property sale — the warranty deed — all 4.5 acres were placed in Duffy Troutt’s name, Farney says.
Duffy Troutt then decided he should get to keep all the land, the lawyer says, and when his grandmother protested, the family ordered her to move out.
“They have pretty much contrived to kick poor grandma out on the street,” Farney says. “She lives in a refurbished garage now.”
The other Troutts deny that they forced the family elder to leave. They say she fell under the influence of outsiders, including the neighboring property owners who convinced her to act against the family’s best interests. Still, the remaining Troutts say her departure and estrangement were voluntary.
Two lawsuits are pending to determine which family member owns any or all of the land, and whether easement agreements Mary Ann Trout made with other landowners are valid.
Meanwhile, the family members still living at the house have issued complaint letters to the sheriff’s office, the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, County Supervisors Chairwoman Sandie Smith, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and even Gov. Janet Napolitano.
“One thing I learned in prison was how to file a complaint,” Arlin Troutt says.
But none who received them have intervened, he adds.
Richardson says he is hesitant to talk about his easement dispute with the Troutts because the case is still pending, and a judge has ordered both sides not to sling mud through the media.
Still, Richardson says all he really wants is for the Troutts not to infringe upon his legal right to access his land.
He only hired the contractor in December to move the road after several attempts to sit down and work out an agreement, he says, all of which were rebuffed.
“They never engaged with us despite a year’s worth of efforts,” Richardson said.
The Troutts see things differently. They say Richardson was attempting to grade their septic drain field, which is essential for sanitation in a home with no connection to city sewers. His contractors also knocked over a 100-year-old saguaro cactus on the Troutts’ property, and a “no trespassing” sign had been torn up.
Richardson says that since the December confrontation, he has not attempted to drive any construction vehicles up Yaqui Lane.
But another adjacent property owner, Andrew Norris, said he is building a house and therefore is forced to use the road.
“I have no problem with them,” Norris says about the Troutts. “We all deserve to live peacefully on our own land.”
But Arlin Troutt says Norris’ construction vehicles, which must drive right past the house, have frequently stopped or gotten lost, causing his family a great deal of annoyance and frustration.
He believes the neighboring landowners’ ultimate goal is to make his family so miserable that the Troutts will sell the land and move away.
“These are our memories,” he said. “We’re going to stick things out until the end.”