With opponents bemoaning the loss of pristine desert to the end, Mesa City Council last week unanimously approved zoning for Blandford Homes’ Reserve at Red Rock resort-style subdivision.
Beyond the oft-stated concerns about airport noise and residential encroachment on Falcon Field, a 17-acre buffer sliced from the 132-acre site will be converted into a nature trail with a small parking lot.
Although the city and Blandford are the big winners from the $21.1 million auction of city property, the park will make it easier for visitors as well as Red Mountain residents to enjoy views of the surroundings.
Red Mountain residents have either parked at a private area operated by the homeowner’s association or walked to the site at Thomas and Recker roads. Anyone else has had to park along Recker, sometimes irritating neighbors.
“I feel we have accomplished what we wanted to with this property,’’ Mayor John Giles said. “It’s going to be upscale homes that I think will increase the property value of the entire neighborhood. We were able to have the mountain trail park and have it developed with the proceeds. The whole region will have more park amenities.’’
City Manager Chris Brady said he always had planned to compensate residents for selling the property – which the city purchased in 1998 for $4 million – by spending $4 million on recreational improvements in northeast Mesa.
But Brady said he decided to increase that amount to $5 million to include $1.2 million for the nature trail as well as pickle ball courts at Gene Autry Park and improvements to soccer fields at Red Mountain Park.
When sale is completed in November, Brady said he will discuss with Council what to do with the remaining $16 million in profits.
Verl Farnsworth, a Red Mountain Park resident and a mayoral candidate, accused the city of stealing the parkland for its own benefit, contending the original plan was for Blandford to pay for developing the park.
“The agreement as written right now is way outside of the original agreement,’’ Farnsworth said.
“I think it’s a violation of the original agreement,’’ he said, threatening to file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office.
Farnsworth and other residents criticized the city for a lack of community involvement before auctioning the property.
“You’re just springing it on the citizens of Mesa,’’ Farnsworth said, accusing the city of “propaganda by citing the 20-year-old votes that doomed the original plan to turn the site into a park.
“We’re getting the 17-acres without any cost,” Brady countered. “I think that’s a fair trade for us.’’
He said the 17-acre site will be a buffer between the Reserve at Red Rock and Nammo Talley, a defense contractor that manufactures explosives.
The site includes an appealing desert wash that would have been impossible to develop for homes.
“It was a balance trying to achieve the buffer. It’s an ideal place to have a nature trail,’’ he said.
The city originally purchased the property, expecting to build a park, to prevent its development for homes and reserve it for commercial development.
But residents voted down two bond issues to turn it into a regional park in 2000.
City Attorney Jim Smith said an aviation easement negotiated with Boeing and Blandford was updated for use near Falcon Field.
Homebuyers in the new community will be required to sign the easement, agreeing not to sue Boeing or the city for aircraft noise.
Brady said he plans to bring a resolution before Council at a future date that would protect Boeing’s flight path for testing its military helicopters. A map showed the flight path as a loop along Greenfield and Higley roads.
Councilman David Luna said Boeing helicopter generally fly north along these two roads until they turn toward vacant desert areas, but they might occasionally end up over or near the new development.
“Boeing had raised concerns about encroachment of residential in the area,’’ Luna said. “It protected Boeing from getting sued. That’s what it’s all about.’’
Corinne Nystrom, airport director of Falcon Field, said new residents will hear aircraft noise, but not as much as someone closer to the busy general aviation airport.
She said she does not think the Reserve at Red Rock will harm Falcon Field’s economic development.
“We have not had any businesses relocate from Falcon Field airport because of complaints from the community about noise,’’ Nystrom said.