Continental Divide

A development proposed for a north Valley slope has residents accusing the county of "collusion"

Rich denies either she or Stapley was bending any rules.

"Supervisor Stapley has kind of taken a hard stance on this property," says Rich, noting that Stapley delayed a technical meeting on Gold Mountain Estates. "That would have the opposite effect of facilitating it. That's the only request I recall along those lines from the supervisor. Matter of fact, he was pretty upset about the grading."

Stapley claims he has no financial interest in the project and has never spoken with or met Smith.

Dirty hands? Some have wondered whether Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley has any involvement with Gold Mountain Estates.
courtesy of Tribune Newspapers
Dirty hands? Some have wondered whether Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley has any involvement with Gold Mountain Estates.

But he's been active in the area.

In April, Stapley took a step that had unfortunate consequences for Janet Mohr. Records show he approved abandonment of a long-standing easement that Smith could have used for access to his property. Now, Smith's only current access is the road across Mohr's land.

Contrary to Davis's accusations of a "collusive effort" with the developer, Stapley says he doesn't approve of all of the methods employed by Smith's development company.

"I think it's unfortunate that under the current law, as it exists today, that road could be built," says Stapley. "I believe there could have been a better way to do it and accomplish what the property owners wanted to accomplish without scarring the mountain as significantly as they did. From a health and safety perspective, what was built there is a threat to the safety of the people."

With no authority to halt the subdivision, Stapley says he encouraged Carefree to hire its own consultant team and examine the possibility of annexing the mountain.

So is Supervisor Stapley speaking from the heart?

Don Sorchych, editor of the Sonoran Desert News, has been critical of the proposed subdivision. The crusading editor has earned the nickname "Don Sore Cheeks" from developer Wayne Smith.

Sorchych thinks Stapley's line is "bullshit."

"[Stapley] said he was going to force them to get a permit," says Sorchych. "What they got is a dust-control permit only, and then they never enforced that, ever. That was all just for frosting on the cake. Furthermore, nobody's ever seen a water truck [to control dust] up there. Matter of fact, it would be unsafe for a water truck to go on that road."

Wayne Smith is the eye of a tempest raging around him. The opposition rattles his cage over the project, and Smith calmly tries to allay its fears. When critics point out gaping wounds in his plan, an unfazed Smith offers Band-Aids.

There is no question that damage has been done to Continental Mountain. Smith admits "tremendous scarring is visible."

"But it's the only way up the mountain," he says.

Yet, when he walks along his controversial road, Smith says that he has taken every measure to maintain the beauty of the area.

"The trouble is, anybody with a preservation mindset is going to come up here and say, 'What are you doing to the side of the mountain?'" says Smith. "If you start from that basis, there's no way you can come up here and say, 'How did you save all these cactus?'

"The Desert Sonoran News calls it carnage. The truth of the matter is, we spent a lot of time and money carving this road out of the side of the mountain. Each bucket of material that was taken off of this road was placed where it is so that it didn't knock over a bazillion cactus or a bazillion trees. There's aesthetic value in looking over the mountain and seeing saguaros that look like grass."

The vista from the top of his mountain shows Smith plenty -- even the other side's point of view.

"I just think the Town of Carefree saw this road going in place and said, 'This guy up here's going to do some lot splits and turn this into a wildcat subdivision, and we don't want that to happen,'" says Smith.

"If you're Jack Davis or Janet Mohr or any of those people, the idea that 56 [homes] are going to be behind you really stinks. You know what? I understand that. But when they bought their property, they knew there was private property back there."

Janet Mohr is the antithesis of Wayne Smith. She's an in-your-face slugger who won't stop swinging until she's won the fight.

At one point, Smith's company offered to swap 10 acres on its property for Mohr's land.

It wasn't even an option.

"I don't want to do any kind of business with him," says Mohr. "I've got the best piece on the mountain, is what I think. I don't want any of that stuff back there. All I want him to do is stay the hell off my property."

Contact Matthew Doig at his online address:

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