C.J. Unzen

C.J. Unzen, center, and a group of Litchfield Park and Waddell residents vigorously oppose a Love’s Travel Center planned near Loop 303 and Bethany Home Road. 

When word of a new development comes along, some simply say, “Oh well—there goes the neighborhood.”

But not people like John Connolly and C.J. Unzen. They say, “Oh no—don’t ruin the neighborhood!”

Both are residents of Litchfield Park. Connolly lives at Litchfield Greens, on the east side of the Loop 303. Unzen lives on the west side of the freeway, which has become the hub of development.

A few months after Unzen heard about a Love’s Travel Center brewing in her neighborhood, Connolly learned of plans to turn the Falcon Golf Course—just outside Litchfield Park and Goodyear—into a “cross-dock” transportation facility.

Neither of them liked the projects one bit.

Connolly is leading opposition to what could bring thousands of trucks daily to West Camelback Road.

Unzen and a group of neighbors she helped organize say a truck stop will bring excessive traffic, noise and crime to their pacific neighborhood, which looks out to White Tank Mountain Regional Park.

A third group is protesting plans to develop Allen Ranch, a massive, 800-acre property north of Goodyear’s PV303.

It is too early to tell if the residents’ protests will stop the developments. Cotton Properties, an area at the Loop 303 and Bethany Home Road that includes a proposed Love’s Travel Center, was annexed from unincorporated Maricopa County into Glendale in January, despite outcry at meetings from Unzen’s group.

Cotton Properties next goes to the Glendale Planning Commission at 6 p.m. June 4, when the developer’s request to rezone from agricultural to commercial uses will be heard.

As for the Kiernan West “cross-dock” facility, a developer’s request for a military compatibility permit for the project at Falcon Golf Course was heard by the Maricopa County Planning and Zoning Commission. 

But, after 77 harshly critical emails were read during an online meeting May 14, a vote by the commissioners was delayed until the commission’s next meeting, at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, May 28. It is also scheduled as online only. (To view, visit attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3164624669529885968.)

The cities of Goodyear and Litchfield Park as well as Luke Air Force Base also sent letters challenging the proposed transportation facility.

Connolly is  a manager with the Federal Aviation Administration, so he was not intimidated by complex documents explaining the project.

He said he moved to Litchfield Park due to his wife’s deep roots there. “Her family is third-generation native and has been farming here since back in the day,” Connolly said. 

While he understands the West Valley is no longer a farming community, he was already growing frustrated at big trucks roaring up and down Camelback Road “all day and all night with no regard for the residents.”

 Then he read about the cross-dock project, two weeks before a scheduled vote. “When people saw that this project has been worked in a vacuum for years and that the ‘optics’ were poor, we were all mad as heck, but anger only goes so far. Why were we not informed, asked to participate or collaborate?” Connolly said.

While Facebook “Stop the Cross Dock” pages were popping up and an online protest gained thousands of signatures, Connolly decided to help take the challenge to the next level. “

“We needed to organize and align with each other, and fast,” he said. “That’s when I started to network with the adjacent HOAs, like Palm Valley Phase V, and reached out to Mayor Tom Schoaf of Litchfield Park to ensure we had common interests and that our goals were aligned.”

Truck stop protest

Months Connolly rallied forces to fight the cross-dock, residents of far-west Litchfield Park and Waddell were trying to put the brakes on a truck stop.

John Kidwell, who lives in the Russell Ranch development of Litchfield Park, said he has personal experience to back up his concerns.

“I’m definitely against the Love’s truck stop,” he said. “I had two previous homes, in Nevada and California, where they tried to put truck stops in within a mile and a half of my home. We fought against it.”

He said he and his neighbors won one of the battles but lost another.

So what was having a truck stop in his neighborhood like?

“It was terrible,” Kidwell said. “It was loud, it was congested, it stunk of diesel fumes—and the noise.”

Ironically, Kidwell had to yell to be heard, as Luke Air Force Base jets raced overhead. But, Kidwell noted, the jets stop at night. He and others are concerned about big trucks idling all day and night.

Kidwell and a dozen of his neighbors met a few months ago at the Cotton Lane Baptist Church parking lot. They pointed across narrow, two-lane Cotton Lane at the sprawling farmland.

As the year began, as it had long been, the farm was unincorporated Maricopa County.

On Jan. 14, it became Glendale.

“That’s Glendale,” said Jennifer Bloomberg, of Waddell, pointing across the street. “This is not. The residents of Glendale are not affected by this.”

Unzen was at that meeting but stressed she was one of many helping organize the fight against the truck stop.

“I was able to engage a handful of neighbors from surrounding communities, and we started actively researching the negative aspects of living near a truck stop,” she said.

“We discovered three major issues a truck stop would bring to our area that would be detrimental to our quality of life: crime, air quality, and traffic impact on safety.  A fourth factor, a  decrease in property values, was also identified.”

While some in the group put together a highlighted “fact sheet,” others hit the streets, delivering it door to door (in pre-pandemic days) and emailing it. 

“Homeowners begin pitching in, telling their neighbors, posting on neighborhood message boards and sending emails,” Unzen said. 

Grassroots protest tips

With the rapid growth of the West Valley, others are certain to have developers interested in big, industrial projects that might come as an unpleasant surprise to quiet neighborhoods.

Connolly and Unzen say residents don’t have to just sit by and let big projects roll over them.

“I’d say if you don’t like what you hear or see, say something or ask a question or two,” Connolly said.

“Others may have a different perspective that may in turn change your mind or they’ll have the same concerns creating an opportunity to network, organize and unite so your message is loud and clear and you will be taken seriously.”

And, he stressed for those who might not be comfortable in leadership, “everyone has a role.” 

Unzen is a retired program manager who moved here from Southern California “for the rural environment and low crime.”

“The key to being engaged in an effort of this nature is to remain focused and ignore the naysayers. There’s always a risk associated with every effort but there’s also the reward of making new friends and gaining knowledge,” she said.

“I knew a truck stop would change the landscape of this area forever, and that is why I became so passionate about coordinating efforts to try to convince Love’s and the city of Glendale to find a more appropriate location for the truck stop.”

Similarly, Connolly feels a cross-dock facility would forever change the landscape of his neighborhood.

Like Unzen, he stressed the importance of collaboration.

“Doing this alone would be impossible. Everyone involved has now ‘lawyered up,’ so I decided to do the same,” Connolly said.

He and a neighbor, Dave Morgan, who previously fought a proposed racetrack adjacent to Luke, got to work. “We interviewed multiple law firms, partnered with Palm Valley Phase V and started a GoFundMe Campaign.”  

At gofundme.com/f/stop-the-cross-dock, $6,000 has been pledged—a long way from  the $100,000 needed to pay lawyers, Connolly said.

Seeing all the projects going up around the West Valley, others who came here to escape the urban woes for rural peace and quiet might share John Connolly’s worry:

“Are we just a dumping ground for warehouses and industrial expansions?”