What Fountain Hills town officials had anticipated to be a smooth process to annex state trust land between their community and McDowell Mountain Regional Park has been anything but.
The mere gathering of less than 300 signatures for a referendum — not an actual vote of Fountain Hills residents that would normally follow — now could threaten the process to bring the two-square-mile parcel into the town.
The Town Council voted to annex the land May 4. But, as the Tribune’s Shanna Hogan reported May 10, several residents are unhappy with the decision, saying that with its maximum of 1,750 homes it is still too dense for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Bruce Hansen, a member of the independent Fountain Hills Sanitary Board, and several other residents have threatened a referendum petition over the matter. They have taken out official paperwork, and at least 282 valid signatures are required to be gathered before June 5. That’s two weeks away, but even in a town the size of Fountain Hills, that isn’t very many.
The town’s in a quagmire because state Land Department officials insisted that the ordinance under which the parcel was annexed calls for the annexation to be immediately negated by the verification of the signatures without an election.
While the state Land Department would be acting properly to wait out the local political process, it should not be deciding at what point the process is over. It’s entirely possible that most Fountain Hills voters support their Town Council’s vote to annex the land. The will of voters who cast ballots should govern, not only 282 signatories on a petition. That empowers the few to decide for the many.
As it stands, with enough signatures, the annexation would be invalidated, the land department would retain ownership of the parcel, and, as Hogan reported, if it decides to sell the parcel, a buyer could develop it with as many homes as he or she deems fit without the town’s zoning regulations being involved at all — something residents likely would not want to see happen.
This is a time for the would-be petitioners, officials of the town and land department, and any interested bidders to sit down and work out a compromise before things get any messier.