Dr. Ceimo: Firebrand Ranch residents assemble at oppose medical center plans

Firebrand Ranch residents attended the Jan. 9 Planning Commission meeting to share their concerns on a proposed redevelopment at Mountain View Medical Plaza. (submitted photo)

Thirty-two neighbors from Firebrand Ranch, prepared with signs and buttons expressing their views, were at the Jan. 9 Planning Commission study session regarding proposed changes to the Mountain View Medical Center on the southeast corner of Tatum and Shea.

Major changes to the center, which has generally been a good neighbor to our community for over 30 years, include demolition of all existing structures and a rebuilding plan that would increase leasable space by one-third and include at least two multi-level structures.

The anticipated time to completion is somewhere between three and five years!

Public comment is usually not taken at study sessions, but after the developer’s request to delay their participation and their subsequent non-attendance, the Commission graciously allowed our group 15 minutes of commentary at the meeting.

Three neighbors –– Paul Couture, myself, and Dr. Kenneth Goldstein — addressed the commission, each expressing neighbors’ concerns about different aspects of the proposed changes.

Mr. Couture gave a detailed account of the difficulty residents presently have getting in and out of the development, especially during rush hour, because of high traffic volumes on Tatum and the common access road shared with the medical center.

Many Firebrand Ranch residents have experienced near-miss accidents trying to enter or exit our development as south-bound Tatum drivers frequently use the area in front of the access road to make hasty U-turns. He expressed our concern that this would only get worse given the anticipated increase in traffic volume as a result of a larger medical complex.

Describing our user-friendly neighborhood, he mentioned bike trips neighbors take to local establishments, the presence of the large number of children playing outside and the many residents exercising, skateboarding, biking, and dog-walking in our streets.

I addressed comments made at the meeting on Dec. 18 where representatives for the project said that they had tried to anticipate residents’ needs and convenience in planning the redevelopment.

“The ‘if you build it, they will come’ mantra may work in movies –– or baseball –– but does not guarantee that we will use these services,” I said.

Relationships with providers are not upended simply because of the availability of similar services nearby. Additionally, doubling down on the amount of leasable space when the property is already under-leased does not seem reasonable.

Although the complex has been described as “tired” and “old,” a face lift in the form a of renovation is a more acceptable and much better alternative than total destruction and rebuilding of the complex.

Dr. Goldstein continued the emphasis on neighbors and neighborhoods, noting the presence of already adequate services in our area and the needless duplication of services with a one-on-every-corner approach.

He spoke with great affection of the quiet lifestyle that we enjoy in our community, and the fact that the medical center is the gateway to Paradise Valley.

The center’s current architectural style is entirely compatible with our neighborhood and Paradise Valley at large, but the proposed changes would forever change that character.

Planning Commission Chair Daran Wastchak and Planner Paul Michaud reviewed the schedule of upcoming Commission and Town Council meetings with the neighbors, providing a glimpse of the transparency that we expect throughout the entire process.

While the representatives of Firebrand Ranch felt overall that this was a good meeting, it really is just the first salvo in our campaign to save our neighborhood from wanton and unnecessary development. Some proposed new tenants — like an urgent care center –– often come with extended hours, the potential need for emergency transport to larger facilities, and the presence of controlled substances for dispensing.

That, in turn, invites the return of drug-seeking criminals who, in the past, have wound up in residents’ homes and yards while attempting to escape. The presence of two-story buildings will destroy any privacy in the backyards of those whose homes back up to the complex, as well as negatively impact the value of all homes in the subdivision.

In a letter to the Town Council read at the December meeting of the Planning Commission, I addressed the major health concerns that she, as a physician, has concerning this project. The expansive nature of the redevelopment heightens the risk of Valley Fever for residents in the near term, but I was equally concerned about the long-term risks from noise and light pollution, along with real risks from increased traffic, especially if drivers choose to backtrack through our neighborhood to avoid the Tatum/Shea intersection.

Listening to the rhetoric used to describe the redevelopment –– terms like “state of the art” –– suggest something more than just new offices.

Neighbors have concerns that this could be the leading edge of Big Corporate Medicine potentially destroying the diversity that the complex offers today, and creating a never-ending churn of doctors and services as major players compete for turf in a highly competitive field. That is not consistent with the personality of Paradise Valley, and certainly not consistent with the Firebrand Ranch community neighborhood.

Neighbors have concerns, too, about the financial feasibility and stability of such a long term project. Will economic downturns stymie or even stop the project, leaving us a half-finished eyesore at the entrance to our neighborhood and Paradise Valley?

We don’t feel that we are being unrealistic or unreasonable, carrying signs that read “Renovate not Decimate”; many of us have done substantial remodeling of our homes. But we know that we have something worth saving here –– a real neighborhood that spans the entire spectrum of the life cycle with the kind of long-term relationships we remember from our childhoods. Shared activities. Safe streets.

Neighbors who know and care for each other and socialize together. Children who can play outside. The ability to look up at night and see the stars. End-of-the-day quiet.

In short: a real community with a lifestyle truly reflective of Paradise Valley.

As Firebrand Ranch goes, so goes the rest of Paradise Valley.

Commercial development is relentless, first creating a need and then conveniently offering to fill it! We neighbors fail to see how the developers have met the “higher need” standard necessary to justify a special use permit in this case, or how this redevelopment serves the needs of our community that are not already met within a short distance.

It’s time for the officials in Paradise Valley to decide whose interests they serve.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Joanne Ceimo is a Paradise Valley resident who lives in the Firebrand Ranch neighborhood.

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