Paradise Valley evaluates future of public parcels

An aerial view of the plot coined, G2, along Invergordon Road and Fanfol Drive. (submitted photo)

Paradise Valley Town Council held a long talk Thursday, Jan. 26 stocking public interest on what may or may not happen with town-owned properties sprinkled throughout municipal bounds.

The local governing board was given an overview of each of the properties before opening the public hearing allowing residents to voice opinions and concerns about land near their homes.

The sum of the 39 parcels of land totals just over 53 acres, according to Paradise Valley Engineering Services Analyst Jeremy Knapp.

The acreage is made up of various right-of-ways, Town Hall, two fire stations, a Barry Goldwater Memorial and two plots of land on Mummy Mountain.

Looking at the town-owned property is a topic that has risen to the surface of the political landscape from time to time, said Mayor Michael Collins at the public hearing.

“There’s some remnant parts, as well as full parcels around the community and while some are pretty well known with how we use them and how we intend to use them, others maybe are not so clear,” he said.

“We thought it was a good time to engage our community with just how these properties should be used going forward.”

Mr. Knapp identified each parcel, its size and outlined its current use and future uses. For most parcels, their use will not be changing, he said.

Town staff recommended council identify what each plot of land’s intended use is to be before moving forward.

“If your intended use is disposition, then we can dispose of it,” said Town Manager Kevin Burke. “If your intended use is maintain it as a right-of-way, then we know to treat it that way. The first decision will be what you want to do with it.”

In the past, the town has been approached by property owners looking to acquire sections of land.

“We’ve had residents come forward and ask about acquiring fee-owned property,” said Mayor Collins.

“In the past we have sold excess right of way, I believe we have sold fee-owned property in the past, so council was interested in getting a broad overview in the entirety so we could see what types of properties were out there. Another reason we asked for this is that sometimes there’s liability with fee-owned property and what property we have out there that we’re responsible for maintaining or keeping in safe condition.”

Past transactions, says Town Attorney Andrew Miller, includes selling right-of-way remnants from time to time and a property exchange for the land for Fire Station 92.

About 10 years ago, the town put out a bid for a vacant lot at the northwest corner of Scottsdale and DoubleTree roads for about $1 million, but no bids were placed he said.

“That’s the only one I know of we actively tried to sell,” he said.

Parcels identified by council as items to discuss further include:

  • A rectangular lot coined G2, near Invergordon Road and Fanfol Drive;
  • A vacant lot on the north west corner of Scottsdale Road and Doubletree Road;
  • Two lots that sit atop Mummy Mountain to be put into the Mummy Mountain Preserve.

Peeling back the onion

Each plot of town-owned land is its own unique case. While most of the land uses will remain the same, the council discussed the next step — if any — for the three identified areas of land.

One challenge, said Mr. Burke, is the town does not have the ability to limit who purchases property.

“Anyone has the ability to bid on it for purchase,” he pointed out.

Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner explained his reservations with putting land up for sale.

“Over the years I’ve seen a lot of parcels sit empty, especially along Scottsdale Road,” he said.

“I don’t know who would buy the Scottsdale and Doubletree (plot) but I know there are a lot of land uses that in my opinion are undesirable — very close to a bus stop, I can see a halfway house type of situation — these are all things we have to think about with land uses with public property.”

Councilman Paul Dembow expressed his concern with creating problems within town or between neighbors.

“If you take a look at some of these other pieces — along McDonald or along the wash — it’s one whole piece,” said Councilman Dembow.  “If neighbors A, B, and C go out into the wash to ride their bike or walk their dog, and I buy that — it’s trespassing now.”

Most of the right-of-way pieces the town owns abut residential areas.

“Is it selling just pieces of this or break each one up to sell five-feet to this neighbor or 10-feet to that neighbor?” asked Councilman Dembow.

“How do we go about selling this? Can one neighbor buy it and it’s a hardship for other neighbors? Is the process going to be all the same? I think it should be.”

Councilman Dembow said he’s concerned with the town divvying up the land into smaller chunks to do an auction or an abandonment process.

“I could really see a landmine of lawsuits coming out of doing this the wrong way,” Mr. Dembow said.

The role of government

The G2 parcel is one that has been a center point for discussion in the past, town officials say.

The G2 adjacent property owner has expressed interest in accessing the property through the access point, explained Mr. Burke. The concern becomes, he said, whether or not to sell the piece as a whole or in pieces.

“If you sell it in pieces you really trap the access to the remainder of it. If you try to sell it whole, you’ve now created an unusual piece in itself but you also have kind of an awkward access to those people’s homes,” said Mr. Burke.

“What would you want with a sliver in front of someone’s home — I don’t know — but it’s certainly something that could create havoc.”

Mr. Bien-Willner wants to respect the fact that town-owned land is owned by the taxpayers, and safe-guarded by the council.

“I don’t think the town should be in the process of picking winners and losers,” he said.

“Unless there’s an identified public need, like the Mummy Mountain Preserve, or we have a specific request from town residents saying ‘here’s what we’d like to do, and here’s how we’d like to do it’ that effects all the adjoining people, then we stay out of it.”

Mayor Collins does see a role, even in limited government, he contends.

“I think there is a role for government when there is an issue that effects multiple property owners,” he said. “And not to say that role is to be affirmative in terms of identifying what the outcome is going to be, but at least in participating in a dialogue and try to mediate a resolution with adjacent property owners.”

Councilwoman Julie Pace floated the idea of residents volunteering to be mediators between neighbors who might be trying to find the best solution for a piece of land near their home.

“If there are citizens that come forward that want to band together and put forth a proposal, I think we would still welcome that, to get some of these strips that are out there behind their houses addressed,” she said. “One idea that if we want to talk about it, there might be volunteer mediators that would help neighbors get together on some of these issues.”

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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