FLORENCE — Despite uncertainty about sewer service, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved a new 65-acre moderate-low density subdivision on Hunt Highway near Florence.
Sewage would most likely go to the notoriously smelly Section 11 plant in Magic Ranch, which EPCOR, interim operator of Johnson Utilities, has said it plans to close. But Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, said to deny the project for this reason “sends a message that Pinal County is closed to further development in the San Tan Valley area.
“At this step, I don’t think we should be the obstacle” or send that message, Rios said at the Supervisors’ Oct. 2 meeting.
Supervisors Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said the subdivision illustrates the need for county officials to keep the Section 11 plant “on our radar,” and be in communication with EPCOR, regulatory agencies and affected parties and working toward a solution.
“For years, we kicked things down the road — as a county we really have — and made it somebody else’s responsibility,” Goodman said. “And it’s time we stopped that. We’ve got to keep this on our radar, all of us. And that includes the developers. We need you with us. … We need you in this fight, so we can continue to move forward with positive growth.”
Landowner Lucky Hunt 65 LLC and its agent, United Engineering Group, requested and received a non-major Comprehensive Plan amendment from medium-density residential and general commercial to moderate-low density residential near Oasis Golf Club. The subdivision is 65 acres with Heritage Road on the north, Hunt Highway on the east and the Gila River Indian Community on the west.
County Manager Louis Andersen said long-term, there needs to be a new sewer plant, and the county has informed EPCOR it needs to seek rezoning for a new mechanical plant. Still, sewer service is “definitely going to be a challenge for this project.”
Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, warned the applicants, “Don’t call us when we can’t approve your final plat,” noting the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality might delay it for sewer service. “It’s a gamble on your part, but that’s your decision, not mine.”
The subdivision first came before the Supervisors at the end of May. At that time, they expressed skepticism not only about where the sewage would go, but about the applicant’s plans to remove commercial frontage on Hunt Highway in favor of a buffer area. The Supervisors said at the time that the area was hurting for commercial land, and the applicants withdrew their request. The Supervisors remanded the case back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to reconsider removal of the commercial area.
The applicants were back Oct. 2 with essentially the same proposal. Pinal County Senior Planner Gilbert Olgin told the Supervisors that the commercial area is less than two acres, and is isolated from the future Fry’s supermarket by a parcel that has already been zoned residential. The future realignment of Hunt Highway will isolate it further, Sean Hamill with United Engineering told the Supervisors.
Hamill said the commercial area that would be lost is only 150-feet deep, limiting it to “fast food and small-box stuff.”
Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, agreed the small amount of commercial land isn’t enough for “what I’d call reputable commercial,” and there was plenty of other commercial acreage on the other side of the road. He said the applicant knows they’re gambling on this, and hopefully the sewer treatment issue will be resolved by the time they’re ready to build.
The county’s Comprehensive Plan called for medium-density residential (between 3.5 and 8 homes per acre) on a majority of the land. The resolution the Supervisors granted Oct. 2 changes it to moderate-low density (between one and 3.5 homes per acre). The area previously identified as commercial will be used instead for drainage.
“I think it’s a good project,” Goodman said.