Tonto Basin

Proposed site development for Roosevelt Cottages.

Tonto Basin’s population could swell by 300 if a proposal to build a slew of “tiny houses” is approved.

Longtime Tonto Basin second-homeowner Mike Middleton and several business partners have dreams of building Roosevelt Lake Cottages, 140 tiny homes, or park model units, on 22 acres just north of the IGA market off Highway 188.

“I’m really excited about this project and I am very proud of it,” said Middleton. “It has been a longtime dream of mine to do a project like this.”

The idea for the project came from visitors to his Tonto Basin home.

“I have friends and family who love to sit on my porch. They would say they’d like to have a set up like mine, but they can’t afford the $100,000 it would take,” he said.

Middleton and his partners want to keep the price for a park model somewhere around $45,000 to $70,000.

The park models, or tiny homes, are less than 400 square feet and “fit in their own category,” said Middleton.

Owners will not own the land their park model sits on. Instead, they will lease.

Middleton and his partners don’t envision more than two people living in a unit full-time.

“Some have a loft for when the grandkids come to visit,” he said.

The specter of a housing development coming to Tonto Basin has some neighbors anxious. There are 1,380 residents in Tonto Basin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Roosevelt Cottages would increase the population by about 20 percent — although the developers envision most of the residents would only live there seasonally.

On a Tonto Basin Facebook community page, several residents expressed concern that a rise in population would stress the infrastructure, bring in lights that could ruin the dark skies, increase traffic and deplete water reserves.

“Water, water, water. That is the issue. Along with other infrastructure,” said one resident.

Middleton understands the water issue. He watched anxiously last year as a drought dried up well after well in Tonto Basin.

“I also experienced the wells going dry,” he said.

He is working closely with Jason Williamson, the owner of the Tonto Basin Water Company. The challenge is to have enough storage capacity to provide water during peak visitation. Already, Middleton has made a portion of his property available to house a water storage tank.

Williamson’s wells are deeper than most private wells. During last year’s drought, when many private shallow wells dried up, Williamson’s wells did not.

For those worried about bright lights, Middleton promised to consider that when picking lighting.

When it comes to traffic, he and his partners have applied for a permit from the Arizona Department of Transportation to provide safe travel for the community.

The project still has many planning hurdles to clear, according to the Gila County Community Development Department.

Already Middleton has had a public meeting with nearby residents. On June 20, he will have a meeting with the Gila County Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss zoning.

Other meetings with the Tonto Basin Fire Department will explore how the added population would affect fire and medical service.

Right now, the property is zoned for general unclassified use. Middleton said he’s going to have to rezone it residential.

On the topic of losing Tonto Basin’s character, Middleton has respect for the unique qualities that make the area such a wonderful place to live and visit.

“My dad took me to Tonto Basin, mostly hunting and fishing,” he said. “I don’t want (the development) to be closed off.”

He plans on building a walking trail around the area, a common area with barbecue, dog park, pickleball courts and enough parking to accommodate tournaments or get-togethers.

“We want to provide affordable retirement and second homes,” he said.

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I cover the Town of Payson, courts, wildfire, business, families, non-profits, the environment and investigative reporting

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