"DESERT RATS" VS. "DESERT RAPERS"NEW SUBDIVISIONS TRIGGER WEEKEND WARFARE BETWEEN DEVELOPERS, RESIDENTS

Ladies and gentlemen, live from one of the Valley's most upscale areas, it's the ultimate neighborhood-growth grudge match.

In one corner, wearing suits and weighing in with big bank accounts, developers building luxury homes in north Scottsdale.

In the other corner, wearing waffle-stompers and weighing in with vehicles large enough to hold a lot of signs, residents fighting to preserve the desert.

The games have already begun. Take for instance, the Saturday-morning sign shuffle.

The City of Scottsdale allows developers to put up signs directing would-be buyers to model homes between Friday afternoons and Monday mornings. But the sign ordinance also comes with restrictions: a maximum of ten signs per development; signs must be within a mile of the development they advertise; signs may not be within 40 feet of another sign for the same development.

Despite the constraints on advertising, neighbors, who aren't too thrilled about the surge of megadevelopment in the desert to begin with, take their frustrations out by stealing or defacing the signs.

The shuffle goes like this: Sign contractors (hired by developers) put out their signs by 5 a.m. on Saturday morning. Development opponents--whom developers and sign contractors call "desert rats" or "saguaro huggers"--steal or deface them by 10 a.m. Signs are replaced by noon and the cycle continues.

Developers and desert preservationists have been natural enemies since the first cul-de-sac was staked out. But the latest boom in the housing market has fueled the feud.

The problem in Scottsdale is that everyone wants to live on the edge of the desert, but the edge keeps moving north. New subdivisions with their golf courses and walls and gates have not exactly received a warm welcome from the folks who believe that residency gives them a say in land use.

Terravita, Del Webb's planned community at Scottsdale Road and Carefree Highway, loses legally placed signs every weekend, says Chris Haines, vice president of sales and marketing.

And the harassment doesn't stop there. The "desert rats" have taken to referring to Terravita as "Terramuerta (death to the Earth)" or "Disney in the Desert" because of its landscaping around the homes. Some have left stickers reading "Desert Raper" on the cabinets and counter tops of model homes, according to Haines.

"It has no effect on our sales and if anything, it only makes [potential buyers] think that those people are silly," Haines says.

But developers and sign contractors get out of line, too. Scottsdale zoning inspector Jo Goforth says he seizes 200 to 300 signs every weekend for noncompliance.

Gail Morris, a volunteer authorized by the city to police the weekend signs, collects another 100 to 120 each weekend, mostly because they aren't permitted, or because there are more than the maximum ten for a development.

She's well-aware of the hatred between the neighbors and the developers.
"I've had citizens stop me and say, 'Keep up the good work,' and 'It's great what you're doing.' It's frustration. They didn't want the subdivisions there and so they take it out on the signs," Morris says.

Meanwhile, developers--who are losing advertising and signs that cost about $5 each--are equally irritated. "I get harassed quite a bit. They yell and scream at me and call the police on me," Morris says of the home builders and sellers. "I've had a couple of situations where I've been scared. I had one gentleman follow me for a half-hour taking pictures."

Morris uses the city's authorization that allows her to pick up illegal signs as a shield. But she's not likely to give the subdivisions a break. "We all moved up north to get away from these massive subdivisions and they're just following us," Morris says. "People want to move out to the desert. Well, by the time they get here, the desert's gone.

 
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