Ex-mayor backs 1,350-home development

Beth Duckett, The Arizona Republic

Former Fountain Hills Mayor Wally Nichols is heading a committee seeking to defeat a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Save Our Small Town, a group of residents, supports the referendum. They oppose what they believe would be undesirable effects, especially traffic, from a 1,350-home development planned by the Ellman Cos. of Phoenix for northeastern Fountain Hills.

Nichols, who retired in June after five years, thrust himself into the spotlight this week, announcing his position as chairman of More Open Space, Less Density, a committee supporting the Ellman Cos. development.

Fountain Hills Planning and Zoning Commissioner Cecil Yates also is involved in opposing the referendum.

Save Our Small Town turned in enough signatures in June to refer the matter to the ballot. The referendum asks voters to undo a Fountain Hills Town Council decision on May 15 that approved Ellman’s plans for the former state trust land south of McDowell Mountain Park.

Referendum in court In a counter move, developer Ellman Cos. filed a lawsuit earlier this month to block the referendum, challenging the validity of petitions. The lawsuit is pending in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Don Kile, president of master-planned communities for Ellman, said the petitions’ legal descriptive title misled petition signers by stating that the land “should be developed in an environmentally sensitive manner.”

Ellman, under its Fountain Hills Investment Company LLC, wants to put 1,350 homes, a resort and park on the 1,276-acre expanse, one of the last swaths of developable land in Fountain Hills.

According to Ellman, the referendum would force the developer to build under a former plan with 1,750 homes and less open space.

The Fountain Hills Town Council approved a denser plan for the project in 2006, a year before Ellman bought the property from the State Land Department.

Worries about traffic SOS Town chairwoman Sharon Hutcheson said its members fear future traffic from the project and possible damage to hillsides and the rural environment.

Hutcheson said she believes the 1,750 homes are only a figurative cap that may not be feasible under town ordinances.

But Nichols asserts that the property is “going to be developed with 1,750, or 1,350.”

“I respect the opinions of all Fountain Hills residents, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why people want to hoist more density, more traffic, less open space and smaller lots onto everyone in this community by opposing the new plan,” Nichols said.

‘Our signatures are valid’

Hutcheson said the SOS Town committee “feels pretty good” about its argument in the case. “We know our signatures are valid.”

She said many community members are troubled that “someone out of town” is trying to fetter with their right to vote.

“Give the people a chance to vote. If you’re so sure of yourself, then you’ll win,” Hutcheson said.