As a photographer and graphics designer, Arlene Gracy goes to her corporate office in Mesa to earn a living. But for Gracy, life really begins when she gets home on a county island to her husband, dogs and horses.
So when she recently came across a notice that a neighboring house on a 1.1-acre plot was up for annexation into the city nearby, the alarm bells rang loud.
"Most of us here own goats, chickens, ducks, even tortoises - it's a lifestyle choice," Gracy said as she walked outside a fenced area one recent morning. She stopped to caress one of her horses. "Our community is happy the way we are and we don't want the city to take over," she said.
Armed with a 35-signature petition opposed to the requested annexation, Gracy recently raised those concerns to the Mesa City Council.
Mayor Scott Smith has said while Gracy needn't worry about Mesa bulldozing its way into the entire neighborhood, he would like to revisit the issue of having a bunch of lots on neighboring county islands where individual houses want to be annexed into the city.
"It creates an awkward situation of one being in Mesa and the others not," Smith said.
That discussion also came up after Councilwoman Dina Higgins pushed for a review of Mesa's annexation policy, which has been examined over the last few years. She raised the matter because Mesa is currently considering numerous individual lot annexations.
A recent city policy change enables individual residents to request annexation.But that policy can lead to a checkerboard effect of some houses in an area being part of the city and the rest in the county, officials contend.
"The main problem was you had to be contiguous with existing city limits, so if your property did not directly abut with Mesa, then you had to bring in neighbors all the way to the property line, which didn't always work out," explained Councilman Scott Somers, who had voted in favor of changing the policy.
The change has now raised questions about whether it's feasible for Mesa to annex individual properties without figuring out the cost attached to public safety and utility services such as trash pickup, among others.
On the other hand, the greater the number of residents in the city, the greater the amount it gets from the state as its revenue share. But officials could not say how much that translated to per person on average.
Somers agrees that the latest policy isn't a perfect solution to finding a balance between residents' desires to become part of the city coupled with the city's benefit of greater state shared revenue versus its cost to the city.
Mesa's senior planner Kim Steadman said that in Gracy's case, the neighbors may not have much say in the matter, because it's up to the landowner to decide whether to annex.
"The state statute only talks about what's required of people within the area of annexation, not those outside," Steadman said. "Only if I own a portion of the property being requested for annexation, do I have the right to be involved."
The community near Loop 202 is broadly bounded by Adobe Road, Crismon Road, Brown Road and 96th Street.
Smith said Gracy has nothing to fear.
"I think there's a natural apprehension by some people who are in the county, who feel if most houses will be annexed, that the city development cops will come in and change the nature of their neighborhood," Smith said. "We have no desire or intention of changing the surrounding area."
That's not convincing enough for Gracy, who says it might not happen now but worries that laws change. For now, if bit by bit, individual parcels are annexed, then it could give Mesa the leeway to take over her community.
"We want to squash the bug before it gets back," Gracy said.
Her neighbor, Joye Markan, shares her concern.
"I moved away from the city and now it looks like the city could come here slowly," Markan said.
Mesa has about 70 pending annexation applications. And the numbers are up. In 2007, Mesa got 45 applications. In 2008, it's received 48 applications already. Officials attribute that to the city's new annexation requirement for those wishing Mesa utilities.
Officials agree that with close proximity to a freeway and growth, annexation requests are likely to go up. But they were unable to answer whether Mesa can handle the responsibilities of providing city services to each property, and whether it makes sense to annex an individual lot and then sending city garbage trucks there.
"We know we'll be getting state shared revenues but will it be enough, I don't have that answer yet," Steadman said.
That's something the council will discuss in the coming months.
Vice Mayor Kyle Jones said the annexation policy needs to explore what value the city gets.
Jones said in Gracy's case, he has concerns because it's an absentee owner.
"If it's someone who wants to live there and wants to be part of the community then that's different," Jones said.
He did say the neighbors have a right to oppose the annexation request and could make a case to the council.
Robert Johnson, real estate agent for the property near Gracy's, said he doesn't understand why the neighbors are concerned.
"There's no intention for the entire area to be annexed," Johnson said.
Gracy just wants to be able to live her idyllic life without the city rules she moved away from eight years ago. "This is my peace of mind," she said.