The Road Not Taken
Sometime around the year 2000, the Arizona Department of Transportation is scheduled to begin building the last leg of State Route 101.
The final stretch will run from where the highway currently dead-ends at Glendale to Interstate 10, five miles to the south.
Now, as plans jell, the path of least resistance for the Valley's Agua Fria Freeway happens to run right through a longtime farmer's backyard and straight through the middle of a decades-old dairy farm.
The path takes a jog, however, when it comes to the estatelike home of a powerful and wealthy local developer.
Seventy-five-year-old Rudy Johnson has lived and farmed near the northeast corner of 99th Avenue and Glendale Avenue most of his life. Soon, his house will lie in the shadow of an on-ramp.
Until several months ago, he thought the freeway would give him plenty of breathing space. Then he found out that ADOT had shifted the road 400 feet to the east, off land it purchased from him for $1.5 million in the late 1980s and into his backyard. If the state follows through with the new alignment, taxpayers will have to pay Johnson even more money for the new right of way. And he'll likely get to keep the initial $1.5 million.
A half-mile south of Johnson's house sits a massive dairy. Soon, cows will be displaced by cars, and the dairy's owners aren't happy about being forced to move. They believe Glendale wanted their dairy out of the way to make way for development.
After wiping out the dairy, the proposed 101 follows a collision course to a mansion belonging to west Valley developer John F. Long. Then, it does something strange: It veers two streets to the east.
ADOT officials say it was cheaper to go around Long's home than to buy him out, but they won't provide any documents to that effect. A 1988 study by ADOT consultants looked at possible routes for the proposed freeway; all of them went around Long's house.
Transportation officials familiar with the project referred questions to ADOT spokesman William Rawson. Rawson, however, was unfamiliar with details of the project and declined to ask others working on it for information on cost estimates, possible alternatives, or why the state had decided to pick one option over another.
Rawson says it is ADOT's policy to avoid businesses and homes whenever possible, but doesn't know why his agency decided to take out the dairy but not Long's mansion.
And Long now wants even more concessions. He has big plans for the 1,000 acres that surround his house. And he doesn't want a freeway running through his planned golf-course community.
People familiar with road-building projects say the Loop 101 proposal is business as usual.
"If you look at the history, ADOT has a habit of bending over and grabbing its ankles to please the municipalities," says Jay Dushoff, a Valley attorney who often represents property owners ADOT wants to buy out. "They can't afford to make anyone mad--it has a way of coming back to haunt them the next year in the Legislature."
Rudy Johnson's father came to Arizona around the turn of the century with the hope that the hot, dry desert air would blast his pneumonia into submission.
It worked. Soon, the elder Johnson, a Dutch immigrant, was working as a laborer on Roosevelt Dam. Johnson's father saw what the new dam meant. When construction ended in 1910, he dropped his pick and made his way back to Phoenix in the hopes of homesteading some of the desert opened up to farming by the Roosevelt's waters.
"But all of the good land was already taken, so we just had to settle for the outskirts," Rudy Johnson says.
The Johnsons have farmed in the area ever since the dam's completion. Today, what once passed for the Valley's outskirts are dotted with subdivisions.
From the window behind the desk in Johnson's office, red-tiled roofs can be seen lapping at the edges of farmland to the east of his home, which sits about a quarter mile east of 99th Avenue and just north of Glendale Avenue.
Despite the encroaching subdivisions, Johnson would like to continue farming. And he would like to stay in his house. Until this year, Johnson believed both options were open to him.
In 1988, ADOT paid Johnson $1.5 million for a strip of his farmland running along the eastern side of 99th Avenue and up to Glendale Avenue. Since then, the state changed its plans and has decided to move the freeway to the east about 400 feet. The proposed route still runs through Johnson's property--in fact, it puts the freeway right next to his house.
Johnson says ADOT has not approached him yet about buying new right of way.
"The first I heard was from people saying, 'I heard they're gonna move the freeway,'" Johnson says. "I said, 'Oh?'"
Johnson began making calls to ADOT and to the City of Glendale to find out what was going on. He was given a copy of a February 3 letter from assistant state engineer Larry Langer to Dean Svoboda, Glendale's planning director, informing the city of ADOT's decision to shift the alignment.
The letter noted that ADOT would save $3 million with the realignment, largely because it wouldn't have to reroute 99th Avenue at Glendale. What it did not mention, however, was that the state was left holding a $1.5 million strip of land it had already purchased from Johnson--land which Johnson is under no obligation to buy back from the state. Yet the state will have to pay Johnson even more money for the new right of way.
Though not an engineer or a high-priced attorney, Rudy Johnson senses why 101 is taking such a circuitous route to Interstate 10.
"It's all politics," he says. "They talk about savings, but when you look at what they'll have to do to go through that dairy, it's hard for me to believe they're serious about saving money."
Johnson says he can't imagine life that close to a freeway, especially once cars start lining up in front of his house on Glendale Avenue to make their way onto 101 or to pass beneath the interchange.
Now, Johnson is mulling over his options, which appear to be slim. ADOT is not obligated to spare his house; it can put the road wherever it pleases, as long as it's willing to pay.
The next time you're thinking about pouring a tall, cold glass of milk, take a drive out to 99th Avenue to see where it came from.
In commercials sponsored by the American Dairy Association, milk looks as refreshingly clean and pure as Perrier. The place where it comes from is another story.
Sometimes, you can smell the Triple G Dairy almost as soon as you see it. When you do see it, the first thing you notice is the cows. All 3,000 of them.
There are cows lolling in the shade on the manure-covered ground. Other cows stand, inexplicably, atop massive pyramid-shaped mounds of cowshit.
The Triple G has stood on 99th Avenue, near Bethany Home Road, for almost 40 years. Once, the Glendale area was home to several such dairies. Today, the Triple G is the last one in that part of the Valley.
Most of the land around the Triple G is unannexed, vacant county land--no coincidence, since the odor thrown off by all those lactating bovines would test even the hardiest suburbanite.
The City of Glendale is not overly mad about those cows. On its master plan, in fact, the city shows the area as the site of future subdivisions--a vision that will be realized once 101 scythes its way through the dairy.
Leaders throughout the west Valley have long been looking forward to the day 101 links up with Interstate 10. Several years ago, they banded together to lobby the Governor's Office to bump the completion date for the freeway up by several years.
They had good reason. Once plugged into the Valley's ever-expanding freeway grid, land values in the west Valley will soar. Strip malls and Circle Ks will sprout up on every corner.
On August 27, 1996, representatives from ADOT met with Glendale officials and engineers from Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Menderhall, an engineering consulting firm.
Minutes from that meeting suggest that ADOT had hoped to bypass the dairy but changed its mind. At that meeting, ADOT assistant engineer Larry Langer "noted that ADOT is no longer requesting that the alignment be shifted to avoid the dairy farm."
ADOT spokesman William Rawson had no explanation for the change in plans. But it makes sense that state officials might have wanted to avoid buying out the dairy.
Now, not only will ADOT have to give the dairy's operators fair market value for their land and equipment, the state also will have to pay the costs of relocating it, under the state's condemnation law.
That could run as high as $10 million, according to dairymen and others familiar with the Gingg family's situation. ADOT has already made its offer to the Ginggs, and the deal is now in escrow. The Ginggs would not comment on the specifics of their buyout agreement. Neither would ADOT.
"It seemed like ADOT thought it would be a terrible injustice if that freeway missed this dairy," says Ben Gingg, the son of the dairy's founder.
Gingg adds that ADOT representatives repeatedly told them that Glendale officials were pressuring them to steer the road through their operation. Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs denies that city officials leaned on ADOT. And ADOT spokesman Rawson also had no comment on Glendale's involvement.
"We have not interfered, we have not registered any opinions," Scruggs says. "It's always been my understanding that there was no way that dairy could have been missed."
Near 97th Avenue and Indian School Road, John F. Long's home stands in isolated splendor behind a tall, wrought-iron security gate.
In front, acres of lawn have been sculpted into an undulating mass of greenery. There are stables out back and adjoining pasture land on which to run horses. The entire complex sits in the middle of more than 1,000 acres of empty farmland, all of which Long owns.
The house also lies dead in the center of the 97th Avenue freeway alignment--the same alignment that will flatten the Triple G.
ADOT decided to detour 101 around Long's home in 1988. From just south of Camelback Road, the freeway will veer two streets to the east, to 95th Avenue. Once safely past the Long homestead, the freeway will move back to 97th Avenue before joining up with Interstate 10. The road will still cut through other Long acreage, property that he has other plans for.
Still, the decision to jog around his house has provoked wry observations among those familiar with the alignment, including the Ginggs.
"If that was your house or my house, they'd blow it up in a second," Ben Gingg says.
Not so, according to ADOT spokesman William Rawson.
"If, indeed, the only reason for that jog is to miss his home," Rawson says, "I wouldn't feel bad about it, because if it were your home, we would do the same thing."
Rawson says a number of factors convinced ADOT to take the road around Long's house, including drainage issues and other "environmental" factors. Rawson did not know what those other factors were.
Rawson also says the cost of buying Long's house was too high, although he didn't know what the purchase price would have been or how that compared to the cost of adding more length to the freeway to go around the house.
He did not know why the state decided to take out the Gingg dairy instead of going through empty land nearby.
A public-records request for any documents showing savings associated with sparing Long's home turned up only a single consultant's study commissioned by ADOT in 1988.
The study looked at three separate alternatives for going around Long's home. The consultants never compared the cost of buying the home to going around it, according to the study.
In the end, the consultants recommended the alignment ADOT now shows on its maps.
For his part, Long seems to be ignoring any road-building plans that ADOT has. Instead, Long has his own vision for the farmland surrounding his house. And it doesn't include a freeway.
In August, the homebuilder filed an application with both the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County to have 950 acres of farmland bordered by Thomas Road, Campbell Avenue, 91st Avenue and 99th Avenue rezoned for a golf-course community.
Long's home, with its adjoining stables and pasture land, would lie at the center of the oasis. And where ADOT's plans now have Loop 101 skirting Long's home, his drawings show only acres of rolling fairways with nothing so much as a golf-cart path impinging on the greenery.
Long wants Loop 101 moved to run along 99th Avenue where it bypasses his property--something he lobbied unsuccessfully for during the late 1980s, when ADOT commissioned its study of the proposed routes.
"If you look at the whole alignment, from the north all the way down to the interstate, it takes a bunch of somewhat peculiar jogs, and ADOT will tell you, 'Gee, we thought this was the freeway John F. Long liked," says Grady Gammage Jr., Long's zoning attorney.
ADOT's Rawson says his department never seriously considered running Loop 101 onto 99th Avenue at Indian School Road because doing so would have meant paying to reroute an arterial roadway--something it had considered doing at Glendale Avenue until earlier this year.
In 1988, the consultants recommended against a 99th Avenue alignment, in part, because of "the property owner's [Long's] insistence that ADOT pay for the 99th Avenue relocation."
"They've always said that was the case, but we've never really been convinced," Miller says.
Gammage points out that Long owns the land on either side of 99th Avenue and that he may be willing to bargain with ADOT.
"I think if it came down 99th Avenue, I think John would be willing to help ADOT with the right of way," Gammage says. "Of course, I don't mean that to imply he would give it to them for free."
Long's chances of winning city and county approval for the rezoning are anyone's guess at this point. Likewise, it remains to be seen whether he will get what he wants from ADOT.
However, Long has many friends all over the Valley, and he's done more than a few favors during the years. Earlier this year, Long donated 80 acres valued at $4 million to the City of Glendale for a wastewater-treatment plant. In 1995, Long donated 56 acres at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road for the construction of a spring-training complex for the Milwaukee Brewers.
About a third of Long's land--the portion from Osborn Road to Thomas Road--lies within the city of Phoenix. The rest is unannexed county land that the city has long been eyeing.
Long's land, along with many a Long-built subdivision, lies inside Phoenix's Fifth Council District. District 5 councilman John Nelson is president of Coe and Vanloo, an engineering firm which is involved in Long's master plan.
Nelson would not comment on the pending zoning case or on the master plan, except to relay through his secretary that he is not personally involved with the project. Nelson would not be in a position to vote on project approval until it was passed from the zoning commission to the council.
Phoenix planning director Dave Richert says the city staff is still reviewing the plan, but adds that, so far, it appears to comply with the city's planning guidelines in terms of housing densities. ADOT's freeway plans are not the city's concern, he says.
"We believe it is possible for ADOT to do a clean take on the property, and until that freeway is built, you cannot unduly bar [Long] from filing an application on his property," Richert says.
"If we need to adjust that plan, we would do it at the time that road becomes a reality."
If the plan is approved, Richert says, it could drive up the buyout costs ADOT would have to pay the developer.
"If he has approval to build it, the market value would necessarily increase," Richert says.
Gammage says Long has always intended to develop that land around his home into a luxury community. It is not a "phony zoning" aimed at driving up the land's value, he says.
"We were also motivated in part by the desire of ADOT to get off their dime and do something by way of starting a condemnation action, if that's what they're going to do," Gammage says.
Long's plan also has gone before the Maryvale Village Planning Committee. Claudette Manzo, the committee's chair, is enthusiastic about it.
"There's a lot of luxury homes in there," she says. "It looks like he really wants to do a nice development."
Not everyone shares Manzo's enthusiasm for Long's plans, especially west Valley leaders who have eagerly awaited 101's completion and fear that Long's plans could postpone that day.
"Now, suddenly, John F. Long wants to file a master plan that doesn't show a freeway anywhere," says Glendale Mayor Eileen Scruggs. "It has had all of the west Valley communities more than a little concerned."
Avondale Mayor Thomas Morales Jr. says he wouldn't mind seeing 101 pushed west. In fact, he says, his city backed Long's efforts in the late 1980s to move 101 onto 99th Avenue--Avondale's eastern boundary--because doing so would have likely brought commercial development to his city.
Still, Morales, like Scruggs, is concerned that Long's new request may delay freeway completion by another five to 10 years. Morales adds that he has been mystified by the seemingly glacial pace with which ADOT has proceeded in buying up the land--including the dairy--it needs to complete 101.
"ADOT has for years known that the dairy had to be moved," Morales says. "And for many years we asked, 'Why hasn't the condemnation been carried out? Why has it taken this many years?' We sometimes got the feeling that sincere negotiations weren't really taking place."
"I'd say ADOT really dropped the ball on this," Mattox says. "If they've known where the freeway was supposed to go since 1988, why didn't they start buying up the right of way until now?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.