The following letter was submitted by Carefree Town Council Member Mike Johnson.
It describes the Review and Approval process of the Carefree Planning & Zoning Commission and Town Council during the approval of the development plan of record for the northeast corner of Cave Creek Rd and Carefree Highway. We believe this discussion is in the public interest.
Carefree’s Northeast Corner – A Brief History
My name is Mike Johnson and I was appointed to the Carefree Town Council in September of 2021 to fill a vacant council seat. My wife and I have had a home in Carefree since 2005 and became permanent residents during 2013. Before that time I had been involved with the town on several projects; the development of the Northeast Corner of Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Rd, traffic safety issues and bringing Carefree Water to West Carefree residents.
On May 31st the Sonoran News published a letter titled “To the people of Carefree – We heard you loud and clear!” The claims below were made by the authors about the Town Council’s plans for future commercial development in Carefree.
“The current trend is calling for another new “boutique” hotel at the northwest corner of Tom Darlington and Carefree Highway. The current plan is also calling for three or more “quick-serve” (code word for Fast Food) restaurants, a shopping mall and additional commercial structures northeast corner of Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road. This out of control growth, reckless development and re-zoning of every single available piece of land and real estate in town in the name of Economic Development is a great concern to the vast majority of the Carefree residents. Pretty soon we will be just like Scottsdale. Is this what the people of Carefree want? “
The statements made about the Northeast Corner are based on what I believe to be uninformed opinion, hyperbole and not in the text of the actual rezoning documents or meetings of the Planning and Zoning Commission or Town Council. How do I know? I was there and my community led the lobbying effort to ensure that the rezoning and deed restrictions prevented exactly what the authors of the letter claim the Town Council wants. Why? The Northeast Corner backs up to Carefree Ironwood Estates (Formerly known as Provence) and that type of development would have killed our property values, been an eyesore, traffic hazard, and noise and lighting nuisance.
At that time I was President of Provence’s HOA Board of Directors and the point person for the Provence HOA Board. Starting in the late summer of 2018 we were notified by the then developer of the property to meet with them and view their vision for the Northeast Corner. What we saw was dense tall commercial buildings that backed right up to our western border, other high density commercial development, a redirection of the natural wash, heavy traffic; and no border wall separating Provence and a development called “Carefree Quarter”. The developer wanted options for a 24 hour emergency hospital, car wash, gas stations, and what we viewed to be cart blanch.
The HOA immediately mobilized and engaged in meetings with the developer, the town and retained legal counsel to advise us on our rights as property owners and citizens of Carefree. Accordingly, we found the Town Council and Administration to be completely sympathetic and open to working with us to achieve a solution that would be best for us and Carefree. Through those discussions we came to believe that the best outcome was to work with the rezoning from residential to commercial to create revenue producing enterprises that would enhance Carefree. Why you ask? The other three corners on Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Rd were already developed as commercial properties; we needed to be pragmatic.
On November 13, 2018, agenda item #13, at a meeting of the Carefree Town Council a hearing was held to review the developer’s request for rezoning from residential to commercial as heavily modified from their original plan with input from Provence, the Town of Carefree and developer. Unfortunately, the developer had not given up the 24 hour emergency hospital, car wash, certain height, architectural and traffic restrictions and other limitations.
The developer made their presentation and then many people including myself spoke on the rezoning request. During the meeting we negotiated the final rezoning with stipulations (deed restrictions) with the developer and the town. At that time, to his credit, Vice Mayor John Crane took the lead for the council and made sure all the changes and agreements made during the meeting were duly noted so they could be voted on by the Town Council and memorialized into what was to become Ordinance #2018-06. In the end, the 24 hour emergency hospital and car wash were prohibited, no drive thru pads or gas stations north of the wash behind Provence were allowed, height, architectural and traffic restrictions were set, amongst others; and a landscaped two foot berm with a six foot block wall was to be built with 50 foot offsets along our entire border with the development. This would keep our community safe from unwanted foot traffic and reduce noise and light pollution. Since that time, no changes have been made to Ordinance 2018-06.
To be clear, the ordinance allowed for up to five drive thru pads on the 27 acres. One cannot be built behind Provence neither can a gas station. The discussions for the drive thru pads included establishments such as Banks, Coffee Shops, Drug Stores like CVS, restaurants like Chipotles; amongst others. Not big name high trafficked fast food drive thru restaurants.
If “Carefree Quarter” had been built as envisioned in that meeting, it would have been a tremendous asset to the town. It would have had an anchor such as Sprouts, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, high end restaurants, shopping and garden offices for medical, dentists, vets or other professionals. Also, walking paths and adequate parking were planned with no parking allowed behind Provence.
I truly believe “Carefree Quarter” or no other development has yet to be built because the water company that services the area has never provided a “Will Serve Letter”. If the Carefree Water Consolidation Project had been completed at that time, we might be enjoying fine food and shopping at the Northeast Corner today.
Please refer to the following documents:
- Town of Carefree, Arizona Ordinance #2018-06.
2. The minutes of the October 22, 2018 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
3. The minutes of November 13, 2018 Town Council meeting.
In conclusion, the claims of “out of control growth” and “reckless development and rezoning” by (my words) “an out of touch tone death town council” are simply not true. The Town of Carefree must objectively review any plans submitted for commercial development. All plans for commercial development must be submitted to the town, reviewed and approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and approved by the Town Council with public hearings and input.
Mike Johnson – Carefree Council Member