Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment continues Moak variance

A view of four of the seven members on Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment. Pictured from left is Emily Kile, Hope Ozer, Richard Chambliss and Eric Leibsohn. Not pictured is Jon Newman, Catherine Kauffman, and Quinn Williams. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment has issued a continuance to a variance proposal pursued by Steven and Deborah Moak on a proposed 6,300-square-foot hillside home.

Several Paradise Valley residents and neighbors of the 5211 E. Cheney Drive property — including Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill — took to Town Hall Wednesday, June 7, to voice their opposition to the project eyed for a 1.03-acre lot on Mummy Mountain.

The Board of Adjustment ultimately voted 4-1 to issue a continuance to the board’s September 2017 meeting. Board member Eric Leibsohn was the dissenting vote, and Catherine Kauffman and Quinn Williams were absent.

The Board of Adjustment is a group of seven residents appointed by the Town Council to hear appeals of zoning code interpretations by the zoning administrator and variance requests.

When a property has a “hardship” that makes it so the property owners don’t get the same enjoyment or use out of a property, an exception can be made, assuming they meet all the criteria.

Criteria set by town code and Arizona Revised Statutes state an applicant must meet all stipulations before the board can grant a variance. A variance can be turned down if the board finds the applicant does not meet all criteria.

The Moaks seek to construct a single-family residence on the property and request a variance to exceed the allowable amount of disturbance. They were represented at the meeting by architect C.P. Drewett, president of Scottsdale-based Drewett Works Architecture.

Board of Adjustment members say their duty is to look only at a lot and a house Neighboring residents, however, have voiced concern over a for-sale sign already posted on the property — before approval for a variance has even been granted.

The amount of allowable disturbance is dependent upon how great the building pad slope is. Greater slopes are allowed less disturbed area per town zoning ordinance, officials say.

The Moak residence has a building pad of 38.7 percent, which results in an allowable disturbance of 10 percent. The applicant is proposing a disturbance of 21.8 percent, according to Mr. Drewett.

Additionally, the lot — identified as lot 11 of the Montana de Bonitas Casa subdivision — was platted in 1980;  if the property were platted today, it would require a minimum lot size of 5.2 acres based upon a slope of 38 percent, staff says.

George Burton

“Although this is a difficult lot to build on, staff does believe that the amount of disturbance can be lessened by re-design improvements,” Paradise Valley Senior Planner George Burton explained.

“Again, staff believes there can be reductions such as restructuring the driveway, reducing or eliminating planters, reducing the pool area, etc.; there are options.”

Plans submitted to the town illustrate the owner’s intent to design and construct a home with 6,300 square feet of livable space, a 1,200-square-foot garage and 600-square-foot detached guest house.

The town received over 20 letters of opposition, and one citizen petition, Mr. Burton said.

“One of the things I have a great concern is (is) how a tremendous amount of the hillsides have been managed to this point — I know why it’s tender,” Mr. Drewett said during his presentation to the board.

The architect says he is also a hillside resident within Paradise Valley, and wouldn’t present the project if he didn’t believe it was an earnest request.

“Ultimately this is about lot size,” Mr. Drewett said. “I understand you need to protect disturbance — and I want to protect it as well — but when you have a piece of property that’s been platted, an owner should have an opportunity to build on it.”

Areas of concern identified by the Board of Adjustment and residents during the public comment portion of the meeting included: little work with town staff to resolve property issues, the mountain’s ridge line, and the question of the lot next door, which the Moaks are said to own as well.

“I feel like what we have designed and are appealing to, to fit on the property is well within reason,” Mr. Drewett said. “If the lot was the proper size we would only consume 41 percent of the disturbed area that would be allowed. That’s really my appeal.”

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Mummy Mountain home. (submitted photo)

‘Our neighborhood’

The Board of Adjustment took the six variance criteria stipulations into consideration before ultimately deciding to continue the application in hopes a resolution can be found.

“My perspective is you’ve got a little bit of an uphill battle,” Board of Adjustment member Richard Chambliss said.

“We’ve received 20 or 25 neighbors’ input — some of which are a little bit off-base — but a number of comments hit home with me, which is ‘you’ve got a lot, there are requirements that have to be met,’ and you’re purporting to exceed that requirement by 100 percent.”

The board does not take into account what future plans are for the house, they said. The group only looks at the house and the lot.

“There is no precedent between one lot and another lot with a variance,” Board Chair Emily Kile said, of resident concerns that this variance would set a precedent.

“I think part of that concern is that if this variance passes with this 20 percent disturbed area, your person — or anyone who owns that second lot — will then build a house similar to the house you’re proposing with another 20 percent disturbed area, when only 10 percent is available.”

A view of building plans presented at the June 7 Board of Adjustment meeting. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Mr. Drewett says he believes his team can return to the board at a later date to present plans that might be more in compliance.

“I’m troubled that the applicant has had very little interaction with staff to try and see if something else could be done,” Mr. Chambliss said.

“I’m not certain whatever compromises that the applicant makes with respect to this one lot are going to be sufficient to get my vote for the application, but I certainly want to give the applicant the opportunity to work with staff to see if they can do something about it.”

Mr. Bidwill, who lives adjacent to the property, questioned why the board should consider a variance for an empty lot the owner is already trying to sell.

“I think this case is 100 percent wrong,” Mr. Bidwill told the board. “They’ve been for sale for a while — both right now, to contradict what information I have. I was just looking at in the back of the gallery here, and both lots have houses for sale. The one we’re talking about today is $4.5 million. The house immediately east of it, is $4.2 million.”

Advertised as a four bedroom, six bathroom home, the listing includes artist renderings of the home. The web page also states the home was built in 2017, and has been on for 155 days.

“While I understand your focus is on land and house, this is our neighborhood,” Mr. Bidwill said. “To me, I think it’s important to respect the neighborhoods; it’s important to respect the mountains; it’s important to respect our ordinances and laws.”

News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at or follow her on Twitter at

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