Road Kill

An innocuous road near Sedona is all that remains of Ken Parker's dream of a grand resort. Now Yavapai County is joining megadeveloper SunCor to take that away, too--with the county providing condemnation powers and SunCor paying the bills.

That case occurred in the state of Washington in 1962. Arizona's condemnation laws, Dushoff points out, are based on Washington's. But 34 years later, it's the private developers who are winning these cases.

Dushoff is familiar with Ken Parker and the controversy over the entrance road--a partner of Dushoff's worked on the case years ago--and says it's another example of the government abusing its powers of eminent domain.

"SunCor has a neat game going," Dushoff says.
SunCor was very explicit about its motivations when it wrote Yavapai County on May 12, 1995, asking the county to condemn the entrance road to the Sedona Golf Resort. "This request is being made due to continued claims by a third party over the ownership of this road," SunCor's project manager, Jim Binick, wrote.

The battle with Parker over control of the road had eaten up enough of everyone's time, SunCor and Yavapai County say, and it's more efficient to condemn the property and end Parker's claims forever.

That explanation bothers Dushoff. "I knew Ken Parker a little," he says. "He can be a royal pain in the ass. But so what? Efficiency is no excuse for bypassing constitutional rights."

Thirteen years after carving out the fateful road, the thing Joe Jones remembers most about Ken Parker is his energy: "He's a 33-and-a-third record played at 78 rpm. It was nothing for him to call me at 1:30 in the morning. That was Ken."

Parker still hasn't slowed down. The 51-year-old Carefree resident explains his case with the enthusiasm of a salesman pitching a new product. Out come maps and diagrams, and soon Parker has worked himself into a fever pitch. "It's scandalous!" he says every few minutes.

Parker's histrionics are more amusing than vexing, and it's easy to see why even his foes hold a grudging admiration for the boyish dynamo.

"The road is a really valuable piece of property that was the second property we ever purchased. And we have told God and everyone that we own it and we have never ever deeded it away," he says excitedly.

The "we" he refers to is his family; it's his elderly parents who actually own the entrance road, he explains, the result of a 1987 stock transfer. But it's the son who is the energy behind the fight to keep the road.

Ken Parker knows that some people believe he is quixotic, a desperate man whose quest to retain the road has been strung out with endless litigation and a series of attorneys.

But Parker maintains that he always intended to hold private ownership of the road and didn't just begin fighting over it when things turned bad.

Parker says the record shows that he's always considered the road a separate, private entity. The road was taxed separately, for example, and he produces records to show that his company was the one paying those taxes. He improved the road, building the median, patching asphalt, paying to light it and forking over money to build a fountain and a guardhouse. Both have been torn down; SunCor demolished the guardhouse this year.

SunCor vice president Steve Gervais says that the company was aware of Parker's claim on the road when it purchased the resort in February 1995. Analysis by its own experts, Gervais says, convinced the company that Parker's claims were invalid. (SunCor president John Ogden declined to speak about the project with New Times.)

"Ken is obsessed with this issue and he's going to take it to the extreme. He's emotionally attached to it. It's unfortunate that the resort didn't turn out the way he envisioned it," says Gervais.

It was the county's idea, Gervais says, to condemn the entrance road and make it public.

"The county said it wanted to shut Ken up because they were tired of him going into these meetings and constantly arguing to the Board of Supervisors that he owns the road. That's why we agreed basically on this condemnation order," Gervais says.

Later, Gervais corrects himself, saying that the decision to condemn was one made mutually by both SunCor and the county--neither side originated the idea.

But public records and other documents acquired by New Times indicate that SunCor not only approached the county about condemning the entrance road--and not vice versa--but has pursued an aggressive and comprehensive campaign to line up support.

Nearly every official, expert or entity involved in the condemnation--from traffic engineers to attorneys to Yavapai County itself--has been indemnified, contracted or otherwise compensated by SunCor.

And SunCor's aggressive pursuit of the condemnation occurs even though bankruptcy Judge Charles G. Case agreed in January that Parker's claims of ownership of the road were invalid.

Parker has appealed Case's ruling, but, for now, SunCor legally owns the road. Yet SunCor remains anxious for the county to condemn the road.

Ken Parker believes that SunCor continues to press for the condemnation because the company is afraid Judge Case's decision will be overturned. And he says SunCor has plenty to worry about.

In his ruling, Judge Case acknowledged Ken Parker's argument that no deed explicitly transferring title of the road exists.

But Case ruled that Parker, by his behavior, had clearly intended to dedicate the road to the condominium owners in the resort. The judge cited a document that SunCor's attorneys entered as evidence--a 20-page questionnaire supposedly filed by Ken Parker with the state Department of Real Estate in 1983. The document indicated that Parker intended to dedicate the road to residents of his resort.

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