Imagine that your family bought the perfect home nestled in a pastoral community of large lots near the White Tank Mountains, where the local school is a caring haven for young minds and friendly neighbors meet for coffee at the country market just down the road near the small-town post office.
Now imagine a white sign appears across the street, which reads: “Zoning Hearing.” You discover that Glendale, a large city 19 miles away, wants to annex the farmland bordering your idyllic community to build massive industrial buildings and high-density housing. They are not accountable to you; they plan to impose their will on you without your consent, and they can.
Unfortunately, an antiquated and now illegal process, known as “strip annexation,” allowed cities like Glendale, Goodyear, Buckeye and many more to lay claim to hundreds of square miles of unincorporated Maricopa County land. Glendale doesn’t want neighborhoods and people; they want tax revenue with little or no cost. No police and fire protection, no streets maintenance, no emergency medical support and no parks. Minimal money spent, maximum revenue.
And just why does Glendale need to make so much money? Earlier city councils decided to make Glendale a sports and entertainment mecca, competing with nearby Phoenix for a big payback. The sales tax revenue generated, they said, would cover the debt they would incur, close to a billion dollars. State Farm Stadium was built, along with Gila River Arena (Coyotes hockey), a convention and media center, and the Camelback Ranch baseball complex. Bond debt in the hundreds of millions of dollars serviced not by property taxes but by sales taxes.
Then came the Great Recession. Glendale came within a hair’s breadth of going bankrupt. Lost city services have slowly been restored, and deferred maintenance is an ongoing issue. The city’s finances, still precarious, were improving, but along came COVID-19. That sales tax to pay the bond debt? Gone. Bankruptcy? Maybe, but there is always the “New Frontier.”
Glendale’s “New Frontier,” which is the Loop 303 business corridor, was strip annexed by Glendale before the law changed in 1980; the land can be cherry picked for the best profit returns. The land will be selectively added to the city only if it generates revenue without incurring a high cost to the city.
In 2016, the owners of Allen Ranches put forward a plan to obtain rezoning for nearly 900 acres of land in Maricopa County, just west of the 303, between Bethany Home and Camelback. On the east side they would have a commercial-industrial park, and on the west, abutting Citrus Road, they would have a residential community with very high home densities.
Area residents resisted and packed a hearing at Scott Libby School, making the property owner and the developer aware that the plan was unacceptable. The developer’s representatives worked productively with the area stakeholders and developed a compromise plan. With fewer homes on a variety of larger lots, the plan was compliant with the Maricopa County zoning guidance for transitional zoning and buffers to prevent conflicts. Maricopa County approved the plan in December 2016.
Unfortunately, the owners of Allen Ranches have hatched a plan to bypass the wishes of Maricopa County and area residents by asking Glendale to annex their property and immediately rezone it to include a much larger commercial footprint than the county-approved plan would permit and a smaller, high-density residential component. Half of the 800 lots in this new plan would be smaller than the smallest residential lot size designation for Maricopa County.
And this residential community would sit 19 miles from Glendale City Hall, an island surrounded by unincorporated land. There is a name for this type of zoning: spot zoning. The classic definition of spot zoning is: “the process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property and to the detriment of other owners.”
This example of spot zoning will create many conflicts for existing residents in the area, all while Glendale profits.
To be a good neighbor, the city of Glendale should reject spot zoning and embrace the 2016 development plan.