Settleinn Remains Unsettled

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The Gila County Board of Supervisors temporarily tabled a proposal Tuesday for the development of SettleInn at Pine Meadows, a 133-acre, 498-unit adult retirement community that developers want to build 15 miles east of Payson on Highway 260.


It was a bad news/good news decision for many of the people who attended the meeting -- residents of the rural subdivisions of Tonto Village, Thompson Draws 1 and 2, and Bear Flats -- which are directly adjacent to the planned community.


While most of the residents who attended the meeting were hoping for a flat-out rejection of the plan, they were pleased that the board didn't give the plan an outright thumbs-up, and that before the issue returns to the board July 11, they will have the chance to reach a compromise with the developers on the planned community's design.


"Short of an outright rejection of the application, I feel good (about the postponed decision)," said former state senator and political consultant Stan Barnes, who has been hired by the residents to oppose the development.


"The board recognizes that the citizens who live there have a stake in the outcome, and this will really be the first meaningful discussion between the developer and those who live there," Barnes said. "I think we'll be able to arrive at a conclusion we can all live with."


The site for the SettleInn at Pine Meadows, a development proposed by the Phoenix-based Landstar Group LLC, is about one mile off Highway 260 between Donnelly Stables and Kohl's Ranch Lodge on road No. 405, where it stretches south toward Bear Flats.


The latest plans for the development include 498 cabin sites ranging from 6,000 to 35,000 square feet, a 25,000-square-foot "multi-function clubhouse," swimming pool, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course , which is scheduled for the project's second phase. It will be age-restricted to residents 55 years old and older.


The community's infrastructure ture calls for 100-percent self-operation and financing through a homeowner's association, and the establishment of its own water and sewer district.


In an hour-long series of passionate and sometimes emotional pleas to the board, Barnes and the small group of residents voiced concerns, which generally focused on three issues: housing density, whether the project is compatible with the environment, and the amount of water that's available in the area.


"It's a fine project, but it belongs in Apache Junction," Barnes said. The proposed density of 3.73 homesites per acre, he said, exceeds the averages of both Phoenix and Los Angeles. "This is not appropriate to the site ... If the county had a general plan, it would not allow such a development in a pristine rural area."


Barnes closed by asking the county supervisors to "Reject the application on its face; to ask the developer to go back to the drawing board" to create a plan more integrated with the area's environment and existing homes.


Valley resident Roger Juszczak, a Thompson Draw homeowner since October 1998 said, "I'm really shocked that the developer would have the (nerve) to come here with a plan like this. I want the developers to run with the land. If they fall short, we'll be the ones to pay."


Art Pearce, current president of the Bear Flats Homeowner's Association, said that all anyone needs to do in order to see how inconsistent the SettleInn proposal is with the area is to drive through it.

"Everything in this plan is foreign to anything that's out there, or would ever be out there," he said.


Water availability is the foremost concern of Bill Peterson, a resident of Thompson Draw who has served as the area's water chairman.


"We have one well to serve 47 cabins," Patterson said. "It is 232 feet deep. It was drilled in 1955, and the water level at that time was about 130 feet. The last time we pulled the pump, the water level was at 210 feet, so we've lost a lot of water. With this additional draw, I would be very concerned that we would be out of water in a very short time."


Gila County District 1 Supervisor Ron Christenson, chairman of the board of supervisors, concluded the meeting by saying that all arguments boiled down to the issue of property rights.


"(Landstar has) a right to create a development on that land, and other people in the area have property rights as well," Christenson said. "I think that all of the issues discussed here can all be resolved, and need to be resolved ... I expect some results (in the meeting between Landstar and the area homeowners), that there will be a compromise reached. If there is a total impasse, then the board will make a decision based on the information that we have."

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