Residents of a 3-year-old neighborhood nestled at the base of
South Mountain were stunned to learn their homes may be destroyed in the next
few years to make room for the proposed southwestern leg of the Loop 202
The Foothills Reserve community is just one of the developments that have
sprung up in the footprint of a freeway whose alignment was first proposed 20
And while Phoenix officials say that state law renders them powerless to stop
such developments even though they may have to be torn down, other Valley
cities have preserved their rights-of-way through creative zoning and a
commitment to avoiding the neighborhood strife now facing Phoenix.
"You pick out a spot and you start developing all these
dreams of, 'Oh, this is a great place where I can raise my kids.' Now that's
all gone to hell," said Ty RamotarSingh, whose Foothills Reserve home
sits in the proposed freeway's path. He and his wife were married in their
back yard in April 2004, one month after moving in.
According to a report released last week by the Arizona Department
of Transportation, the preliminary route for the $1.1 billion proposed Loop
202 would plow through hundreds of homes and businesses in the Valley. The
freeway would link Interstate 10 in the west and south, bypassing downtown
ADOT has not estimated acquisition costs, spokesman Matt
Burdick said. Current prices for homes shown within the freeway's outline
indicate that it could cost the state tens of millions of dollars in Ahwatukee
alone to acquire more than 100 homes built since the freeway was first
proposed in 1985. Houses on the market in the Foothills Reserve, where the
first homes were finished in 2002,right now range from $385,000 to $825,000.
Residents said they were never told that their homes could be demolished.
The developer says he didn't know, either.
"I don't think we knew that there was a possibility that the homes would
be taken," said Norm Schrock, president of the Arizona division of
Woodside Homes. He said he did not know the freeway could affect the community
until contacted about it by an Arizona
Republic reporter this week.
A single line in the public report given to potential home buyers in Foothills
Reserve indicates that the proposed South Mountain Freeway is planned nearby,
but it does not mention where.
Though residents admitted they did not research the freeway's path before
moving in, they said they were baffled by the decision to place a new
development in what could soon be concrete.
"Why would anyone build on that land if there's potential for it becoming
a highway?" said Pam RamotarSingh. "If we'd known ahead of time, we
would have thought twice about buying and building out there."
None of the land along Pecos Road in Ahwatukee was developed when the freeway
was first designed in 1985. ADOT did not have money to buy right-of-way at the
time, spokesman Matt Burdick said.
A possible alternative
The only alternative route for the southern portion would be
on land owned by the Gila River Indian Community, which has been opposed to
However, some Gila River residents said this week they may reconsider to avoid
harm to South Mountain Park, part of which lies in the proposed alignment.
ADOT has another year or two to consider other alignments, Burdick said.
Phoenix officials say property rights protected in the state's constitution
forbid the city from blocking development on private land to accommodate a
"You can't prevent someone from developing and doing what they want with
their property," said Sal DiCiccio, who was District 6 councilman from
1994 to 2000 and now works as a real estate developer.
When a developer wants to build homes near the proposed route, the city and
developer contact ADOT, which can offer to buy the land or suggest ways that
the neighborhood could be built to minimize disruption when the freeway goes
through. ADOT's records do not show any such correspondence with the Foothills
Reserve, Burdick said.
In Ahwatukee, land that ADOT didn't buy for lack of money later became
neighborhoods and a church.
"We frequently . . . have said, 'I wish we didn't have to develop this,
we're probably going to have to buy it later,' " said Jack Tevlin, a
former deputy Phoenix city manager who oversaw transportation issues for 12
years before retiring in 2003.
Councilman Greg Stanton, who represents Ahwatukee, had just joined the council
when approval for Foothills Reserve came up. The council can't vote against a
developer's plan unless there is something wrong with the design itself,
"I actually hate voting on it for this reason," Stanton said. The
development's proximity to the potential freeway route "was not an issue
I could consider when I approved that."
Holding off development
Other Valley cities
managed to hold off development on future freeway land.
When the Santan Freeway was planned in the mid-1980s, Chandler did its own
study to estimate the freeway's exact route and used that map as a basis for
zoning decisions to prevent building there, said Hank Pluster, the city's
former long range planning manager.
Before developers could get zoning approval for projects along the route,
Chandler required them to set aside land for the future freeway or leave the
land vacant for storm water retention basins. They also worked with developers
to shift density away from the planned road.
"Our councils have been forward-thinking," Pluster said. "They
recognized the freeway was coming and they didn't want to deal with future
Mesa worked out similar arrangements with developers along the Red Mountain
Freeway, said Jeff Martin, assistant development services manager. In a few
cases, developers agreed to donate land along the right-of-way in exchange for
Not all of those solutions would have worked in Phoenix, said David Richert,
the city's growth, land use and state land manager.
Factors from the hilly terrain of Ahwatukee to the uncertainty surrounding the
Pecos Road alignment kept the city from making such deals, he said.
"You can't force (developers) to do that, and neither can those other
communities," Richert said. "I applaud them for their efforts if
they can keep structures out of (the footprint), but sometimes it's not