Rio Verde Residents Saying “Whoa” to Horse Ranches

Sarah Anchors, The Arizona Republic

The urge to preserve rural tranquility is so strong in the Rio Verde area that some residents not only object to new golf courses, subdivisions and shopping centers, they’re digging in their heels against horse ranches. Casa de los Caballos’ neighbors are fighting the horse ranch’s application for a special use permit to board up to 50 horses and give riding lessons. Opponents fear that the business on North 152nd Street in unincorporated Maricopa County could increase traffic and cause a water shortage.

”I am not against horse ranches, but these are big, commercial businesses that do not belong in a rural residential neighborhood,” said Pam Newman, who lives up the road from the ranch.

Both sides will meet Wednesday to negotiate before the ranch’s hearing with the county Board of Supervisors on Sept. 20.

The ranch may be joined by two competitors, both also requesting special use permits. On Sept. 7, the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider an application by E&C Harrison on 144th Street. No hearing is scheduled for Shadow Hills Ranch on 152nd Street, and the owner said she is reconsidering.

”There is so much controversy that we’re not sure what we’re going to do,” Gail Newborn said.

The issue has split residents into horse people and ranch opponents.

Nina Henry, president of the Rio Verde Horseman’s Association, said most residents welcome the ranches.

”This is horse country, and we drive up and down (Rio Verde Drive) with trailers all the time,” she said.

The rolling dirt roads are not meant for heavy traffic, said Newman, who heads the Rio Verde Alliance.

”We only have one main street, and the traffic would impact us,” Newman said. ”It’s just not designed for the public to come out for big events.”

Wendy Riddell, attorney for Casa de los Caballos, said there would be about 25 horse-trailer trips per day for boarding and training, but the ranch also has requested to host horse shows.

It’s more than just traffic and appearances, Newman said. The state water department has not studied how many ranches and homes the area’s aquifer can support.

Scott McCullough, the county’s acting planning director, said there is no evidence wells would run dry.
”People having concerns does not mean there’s an actual concern,” he said.

Newman also is taking aim at ranches that board and train horses without permits.