The massive Canyon River Ranch project planned on Doll Baby Ranch Road had a series of zoning changes approved by the county last week.

The planned senior living community is on approximately 158 acres west of Payson on both the south and north sides of Doll Baby Ranch Road.

The property has sat untouched for years after the Great Recession of 2008 put development on hold.

Originally, the county approved residential development plans for Canyon River Ranch in 2008. A 5,600-square-foot pavilion was constructed along with a 20,000-square-foot covered arena, a well site, a decorative entry feature/water tower, and some internal road work and grading. Everything came to a halt in 2009, according to a Community Development staff report submitted to the supervisors for the July 27 public hearing.

Canyon River Partners LLC and International West Civil Contractors Inc. now own the property. The applicant for the changes is Michael Baker International, who was represented at the meeting by Adam Pruett with the Phoenix office of Michael Baker International.

Responding to questions from Supervisors Steve Christensen and Woody Cline, Pruett said the project is for those 55 and older and expects to see approximately 35% seasonal occupation and between 60% and 70% year-round occupation.

The “new” Canyon River Ranch project, according to the staff report, is a mixed-use development consisting of residential and commercial uses with a substantial amount of passive open space. At complete build-out, there will be 721 residential homesites with a mixture of single and doublewide mobile homes with approximately 40% of the overall homesites devoted to RVs (288 sites). Each homesite will have electricity, water and wastewater services and leased to the resident for placement of a home or RV.

The owners would, however, like the ability to lease up to 100% of the property for RV uses until the project is fully developed.

“We’re excited about the project and are working to keep the process moving at a fast pace,” Pruett said in an email to the Roundup. “It is our goal to have the Doll Baby Ranch Road improvements underway in the next few months and completed for a project groundbreaking in the first quarter of 2022.”

The project will develop in two phases — broken into the north and south side of Doll Baby Ranch Road.

“Occupancy should begin within six to eight months from the start of construction and is anticipated to increase rapidly as marketing efforts get underway,” he said.


The proposed commercial uses include restaurants, personal service businesses, self-storage facilities and motor fuel and propane sales.

The property owners also envision temporary outdoor events.

The property owners propose offering a significant number of amenities with the development including the existing pavilion and arena, a large community clubhouse, multiple miles of multi-use trails and paths, a 1-acre fishing pond, passive open space representing almost 60% of the property, and multiple sporting opportunities such as pickleball, tennis, baseball and softball, basketball courts, three dog parks and three community swimming pools.

County staff said the applicant would also like the flexibility to develop the property either as a single phase, or as a two-phased development, depending on the timing of the approvals related to infrastructure permitting, construction costs and mobilization. If it becomes a two-phased project, the applicant expects one phase north of Doll Baby Ranch Road and the second phase to the south of this road.


Water is currently planned to come from seven wells on the property, plus a 60,000-gallon water tank, with more as needed.

The applicant is exploring those options. Previously, when the property was to be developed for single-family residences, water was to be provided through private wells. With a change in use of the property from single-family residences to a mobile/manufactured home/RV project, the applicant has retained a hydrologist to determine the potential capacity and availability of water to serve the project. Ultimately, the applicant will need to get approvals from the Arizona Departments of Environmental Quality and Water Resources to provide water to the property.

Already the Salt River Project is raising red flags about drilling wells on the property because of its proximity to the East Verde River. In a letter to the county, Shawn Lucas with SRP said the company has serious concerns. It is only 1.5 miles from the East Verde River and any wells on the property will conflict with the rights of SRP. An independent hydrology study was suggested.

Backup plans for water include buying it from the Town of Payson and piping it in or hauling it in, said Paul Brown, another representative of the developer.


The applicant is proposing to use a private wastewater collection and treatment plant. The proposed treatment includes the reuse of effluent with a private hauler to remove the remaining material for off-site management. The applicant will need approval from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality for the wastewater system.

Emergency services

The applicant has had many discussions with the Town of Payson regarding emergency medical and fire service to the project.

Per a letter dated May 12 from Payson Fire Chief David Staub the town supports the project subject to the following conditions:

1) The developer of the property creates a fire district which will contract with the town to provide fire and emergency service

2) The developer will contribute $700,000 to the town for the purchase of a fire engine and equip it as needed by the town (the truck will be kept at a town facility).

3) The developer will ensure that all access roads within the development meet the International Fire Code.

4) The developer will provide fire hydrants throughout the community.

5) The developer will provide a water fire flow of 500 gallons per minute from all fire hydrants at 20 psi residual pressure that has a duration of two hours.

6) That all buildings in the development will be equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system that meets the use of the building which is required when there is no secondary access out of the development.

7) That the developer will dedicate two acres of land for the fire district to use for a future fire station.

Road improvements

Doll Baby Ranch Road, which is the primary access road between the property and the town, is a public, two-lane road. Approximately 1,000 feet of this road is within the town and roughly 2,000 feet is within the county’s jurisdiction. The applicant has discussed the required improvements of Doll Baby Ranch Road with the town and the county and has agreed to make the improvements. Part of the improvements will include road realignment and drainage crossings over the American Gulch drainage.

The U.S. Forest Service must sign off on the road improvement.

Due to the significant number of amenities proposed and the fact that the project will bring more affordable housing to the area, the Community Development staff, in its report to the supervisors, said it believes the project will have a positive overall impact on the community.

The changes approved by the Gila County Board of Supervisors July 27 are just the first step in a long process before they break ground.

The changes approved by the BOS: A minor amendment to the Gila County Comprehensive Plan to change the land use designation from residential to mixed use, an amendment to the Gila County Zoning Map to change the zoning designation from R1-D40 and R1L-D40 to Transitional Residential with a Planned Development Overlay and Trailer Overlay and a Reversion to Acreage related to the Canyon River Ranch subdivision plat.

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(1) comment

Mike White

At a recent Town Hall to discuss MHA/RCEA's new Mud Springs Park, former Mayor Kenny Evans stated that the planning for the C.C. Cragin pipeline included the assumption that the town population would be doubling to absorb the excess capacity, thus bringing down the water costs per household. Our rates are very high, and growing each year, but the thought of doubling our already congested traffic might be worse than having the highest water rates in the state.

Wouldn't it make more sense to have this new development purchase its water from the Town, which has excess capacity due to the pipeline, thus bringing down the rates per household? The alternative is to drill and use many wells at Doll Baby, drawing down the water table in that area unnecessarily and leaving Payson with continued excess water capacity and very high rates. Adding population out in Doll Baby will add a bit less less traffic to the Town (compared to new in-town homes), assuming they don't have to use the 260 or 87 within a mile or so of that chokepoint intersection.

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