Hikers and biking enthusiasts are worried about a homebuilder redeveloping the Sonoran Desert Preserve.
By Brittni Thomason
Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 6:16 PM MST
A Valley homebuilder wants to build up to 1,420 homes to the desert in North Phoenix, but not everyone is excited about the development plans. One group is fighting to keep the area near the Sonoran Preserve from turning into a huge, new housing community, called Verdin. The Sonoran Preserve includes more than 9,600 acres and three trailhead locations, Desert Vista, Desert Hills, and Apache Wash, offering 36 miles of trails.
As a triathlete, Daniel Centilli spends a lot of time at The Apache Wash Trailhead. “I consider this the crown jewel of the north valley,” said Centilli. That’s why he worries about the future of the surrounding area where Taylor Morrison wants to build a housing development adjacent to the Sonoran Preserve.
In a statement, Susan Demmitt, partner at Gammage & Burnham and Taylor Morrison’s land use counsel said in part, “The property is in close proximity to the City’s Sonoran Preserve, but the property has been privately owned and designated in the city’s planning documents since 1985 as planned for residential development. The property is not included in the City’s Sonoran Preserve boundaries and no preserve land is impacted by this development.”
Those in the group Save Our Sonoran Preserve have a problem with how many houses could be built in the area. “It’s currently zoned for about one house per acre,” said Centilli. “They want to go to three to five.”
“They want to squeeze every last penny out of each acre of land,” said hiker, Daniel Stokes.
Demmitt said, “In order to achieve our vision for Verdin, we have requested a zone change from S-1 to Planned Unit Development, commonly referred to as PUD. The PUD is a zoning district that is authorized by the City of Phoenix Zoning Ordinance and is a customized zoning framework that sets forth the regulatory framework for permitted uses, development standards, and design guidelines. The Verdin PUD will allow not only the creation of various lot sizes for future single-family residential homes but also provides detailed design and landscape standards to create an authentic desert community that integrates extensive edge treatment, preservation of wash corridors, a network of public and private trails and paseos, among other guidelines in compliance with the National Wildlife Federation’s community certification requirements.”
While the homebuilder says the development is an opportunity to craft a truly unique housing environment, those in the Save Our Sonoran Preserve group want to keep the area from more traffic, people, and noise.
“That desert character overlay currently provides specific edge guideline characteristics that help maintain the character of the surrounding desert,” said Centilli. “The developer wants to remove that to increase housing density within that 480 acre parcel.”
“The development plan for Verdin reflects Taylor Morrison’s intent to showcase how a master-planned community can provide much-needed housing to support the growing economic and employment base in North Phoenix, but can also be a flagship community and steward of its desert context,” Demmitt’s statement said.
Still, those like Centilli and Stokes said they want the community built somewhere else. “I think it would be detrimental to hikes, the density, and the traffic, it’s not a positive,” said Stokes.
“Those houses really should be developed near Desert Ridge,” said Centilli.
There will be meetings on March 10 and April 5 to discuss the future of the land. A representative from Taylor Morrison said The City Council hearing, which will be the formal vote on the zoning change, has not been set, but it is likely to occur in late May or early June. Here is Demmitt’s full statement:
“Taylor Morrison’s Verdin project is located along Sonoran Desert Drive, which is a regional transportation corridor for North Phoenix. The property is in close proximity to the City’s Sonoran Preserve, but the property has been privately owned and designated in the City’s planning documents since 1985 as planned for residential development. The property is not included in the City’s Sonoran Preserve boundaries and no preserve land is impacted by this development. In fact, Taylor Morrison has been working closely with the City of Phoenix Parks Department to design public trail corridors and trailheads that further the City’s goals for the Sonoran Preserve. The General Plan designation that has been in place for more than 30 years supports more than 1,800 units on the property. Taylor Morrison is proposing to develop single-family homes in a master-planned community that will be developed at a maximum of 3 units/acre – no more than 1,420 homes. Beyond Taylor Morrison’s Verdin project, there are several thousand acres of State Trust Land along Sonoran Desert Drive also planned for development. The City’s General Plan designates all of this land for future development, with thousands of new homes to be developed in the years to come. The property is adjacent to Sonoran Desert Drive. The City’s ultimate plans are for the roadway to be a six-lane parkway that will carry regional traffic from Interstate 17 to Cave Creek Road and beyond. Taylor Morrison is working with the City on a number of street improvements that will be constructed as part of the project as well as an additional $12-16M contribution, which will be used towards the future build-out of the road. Because of the property’s location near the Sonoran Preserve, Taylor Morrison has been working on unique design guidelines that now form the core framework for development of the Verdin community. These design guidelines, which total almost 90 pages of the zoning document, address design considerations related to the interface with the Sonoran Preserve, future public edge and trail connections, and a unique partnership with the National Wildlife Federation. Verdin will be the first master-planned community in Arizona, and one of the first in the country to be built from the ground up as a certified National Wildlife Federation community. The Sonoran Preserve Edge Treatment Guidelines and National Wildlife Federation Design Guidelines, which are part of the regulatory framework for the property, provide the framework for how the property will be developed in concert with the adjacent Sonoran Preserve. The goal of these design guidelines is to adhere to a strict landscape palette to ensure native vegetation is used throughout the community and to create ‘soft’ edges adjacent to the Sonoran Preserve that allows a more organic interface between the Sonoran Preserve and Verdin. This includes restrictions on the number of homes that may back up to the preserve, guidelines for fencing and open space areas adjacent to the Preserve, landscaping restrictions, and guidelines for the development of trailheads. These design guidelines account for nearly 90 pages within the Verdin zoning regulations. The zoning framework for Verdin sets the bar very high and will result in a first-of-its-kind community for Phoenix. The development plan for Verdin reflects Taylor Morrison’s intent to showcase how a master-planned community can provide much-needed housing to support the growing economic and employment base in North Phoenix, but can also be a flagship community and steward of its desert context. With the precedent set by Verdin, the City has the opportunity to craft a truly unique housing environment along the Sonoran Desert Drive corridor that can be a point of pride for the City of Phoenix.”
AUTHOR: Brittni Thomason