Neighbors Wary Of Neglected Development

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The residents of Christopher Creek have heard lots of talk about the plans for Creekside Mountain Homes, but very few answers to their questions and concerns.

The development plans were originally presented in October 2002. The project was then going to be called The Grand Lodge at Christopher Creek, with groundbreaking planned in 2004 and completion in 2007.

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The people who made these trailers home in Christopher Creek were told to vacate by April 1, 2005. Demolition work began, but more than a year later, the trailer shells and debris remain on the property where a development is planned.

By March 2005, the development was being called Creekside Mountain Homes, "fractional ownership homes." The developers, a partnership of Aaron Warren, Bucky Haver, Gene Bethancourt and Wolfgang Klien, had always planned for the fractional ownership, but the lodge concept was scaled back.

The initial work on the property involved cutting trees near the creek and that raised concerns among neighbors about potential flooding downstream.

More concerns arose as 41 old trailers and cabins were demolished and then the work stopped.

In a letter to Gila County District One Supervisor Tommie Martin, the Christopher Creek Homeowner's Association said they had heard the work on clearing the property had "stopped because the developers failed to get appropriate permits. As the property now stands, it is a safety hazard. ... Several derelict trailers remain on the property ... inviting vandalism and other problems. Furthermore, the area is attracting refuse from the community, thereby creating a fire hazard."

Several additional letters were sent to Martin, and none received responses, said Sandy Kalmer, a Christopher Creek resident who is involved in getting the problem resolved.

Martin said she spoke with Christopher Creek residents on at least two occasions about their concerns with the project.

Glenn Ashby was primarily concerned about trees being cut in the right-of-way, and Martin said the county was able to get that stopped.

She could not recall who else she had spoken to regarding the problems -- both conversations were a little more than a year ago -- but she directed them to the county planning and zoning office.

Martin said she would have forwarded the letters on the matter to the appropriate departments.

"When I don't hear anything, when no one tells me there is still a problem, I have to think the problem has been solved," Martin said.

Olive Matus, previous owner of Creekside Restaurant, which had been purchased by the partnership for the development, made several personal requests for the debris to be cleared. She was told it would be done by the end of November 2005. When nothing happened, she made the request again in December 2005.

So far, nothing has changed.

Terry Smith of the county development office said the project is still active as far as he is concerned, though no contact has been made with the developers in several months.

Attempts by the Roundup to contact the developers at the number listed on their sign in Christopher Creek and the numbers they provided Smith were unsuccessful.

"It is being held up until the developers meet with county engineering to clear up easement questions," Smith said. He explained that the survey the county was presented did not reflect the conversations the developers had with officials as the project went through the early stages of zoning changes and plan reviews.

Smith said demolition permits for the project would have been handled in the Payson office. He did not know if formal complaints regarding the condition of the property had been filed, but they would also have to be taken care of in the Payson office.

Joe Mendoza, director of the county planning office, said he has been told the work on clearing the property has stopped because the developers have run out of the necessary funds. However, the developers are staying in touch with his office. He said they really did not need permits to clear the property, but written notice must be given to the assessor's office to take the structures off the tax rolls.

He said complaints have been filed with his office and they are being dealt with.

The county just recently revised its zoning ordinances to address such problems through a hearing officer. Candidates for the position were interviewed April 14, Smith said, but no one has been hired.

He said if complaints have been filed, they would be going through the criminal court system.

"I think they would get swifter action if they waited until there was a hearing officer and the complaints took that route," Smith said.

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