Town council has eyes for hillside preservation in Paradise Valley

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace got the blessing of the local governing board to reinvigorate the Mummy Mountain Preserve Trust — and explore preserving additional acreage on all town hillsides.

During a Thursday, Oct. 12 study session, Paradise Valley Town Council discussed hillside preservation options, with Ms. Pace leading the charge on the efforts.

The study session was held at Town Council, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

City of Scottsdale Preserve Director Kroy Ekblaw, presented town council with a brief history of Scottsdale’s preservation narrative that detailed the process of putting 30,000 acres into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

This hillside preservation initiative was first identified at the council’s March retreat, according to Town Manager Kevin Burke, and in June the elected body continued their brainstorming on subtopics in the hillside category.

Ultimately, the council is looking at reigniting the preservation efforts on unbuilt lots, Mummy Mountain especially.

“What we’re looking at, possibly, is these vacant lots that haven’t been built on,” Ms. Pace explained to Mr. Ekblaw during the meeting.

“They’re higher up on Mummy Mountain. Do you have any words of wisdom if you were approaching that today? We don’t even have an identity of all the lots, but let’s say it’s 30-35 lots maybe.”

Some lots pose dangerous or challenging conditions, Ms. Pace said, and pointed to former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as a visionary for the Phoenix mountains.

“Barry Goldwater was the one who really helped make a difference for the top of Camelback and we’re trying to continue that legacy,” Ms. Pace said. “It’s really our time to do that because we’ve gotten some issues that have happened — the challenging lots, the safety issues, Prop. 207 that says everything’s supposed to be buildable unless it’s unsafe and challenging. So that’s kind of changed the dynamic of our town for the first time.”

Mr. Ekblaw’s presentation and discussion described a citizen-led effort over a series of years, on mostly undeveloped land. In order to get a citywide vote passed to establish the Preserve, a task-force was formed that focused on the “bigger picture.”

The 30,000-acre Preserve has trail-access as a utility for the residents, Mr. Ekblaw explained, that helped residents support the ballot.

“When you go back and look at some efforts of the task force, again, they did this big picture look at things to the extent that much of this land is in the northern two-thirds of the community, and much of our population base in the 1990s was in the southern one-third,” Mr. Ekblaw noted.

“So for a successful community-wide vote, it was ‘what were the benefits?’ Since many had used the McDowells in some form or another, whether they were a Boy Scout who had hiked or hunted, it was reaching out and getting some connection to the McDowells and having them identify that access was important.”

Mr. Ekblaw said the citizens group started with just a group of passionate people around a kitchen table one evening.

For Mummy Mountain, when the trust was established in 1997, 320 acres were identified as being interested in preservation, Town Clerk Duncan Miller said at the meeting. Today, there are 243 acres in the trust, he said, noting there were 43 parcels.

Through an anecdotal conversation around the council table, Ms. Pace estimated there could be about 12 vacant parcels on Camelback Mountain.

“I don’t have all the answers but I know there’s a good interest,” Ms. Pace said of the hillside preservation effort. “It’s really a nice connection to the community, I think, to have something we bond around to do something good in the world.”

Ms. Pace explained that recently the municipality has seen challenging lots on Mummy and Camelback mountains try to be developed, and it’s resulted in a lot of citizen input.

“It seems like it’s kind of a decision point,” she said. “We either let it all go and let it develop as is, or we have an opportunity to do something for the future.”

Ms. Pace says she wants to get the ball rolling, as the topic has been talked about on-and-off this year.

“I’m not an advocate to condemn, I would like it to be some voluntary program with opportunities to incentivize and make it work,” she explained. “I think there are those opportunities, I think there are monetary and nonmonetary opportunities.”

Ms. Pace also pointed towards the municipality’s main source of income, the world-class resorts that call Paradise Valley home, as a reason to maintain views.

Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner complimented Ms. Pace on her thorough outline of the initiative, a 4-page detailed document addressing a number of options.

“There’s a lot of great ideas here, and I know Julie’s anxious to roll up her sleeves and get started,” Mr. Bien-Willner said. “Whatever happens at a citizen level, that’s the beauty of a small town, people can get together and come up with ideas.”

One of Ms. Pace’s suggestions is to expand the Mummy Mountain Preserve Trust from five to seven people, while Mr. Bien-Willner suggested re-branding the group to be inclusive of all mountains within the town.

Councilmember Mark Stanton agreed with the others, noting his belief that there’s a lot of people interested in this initiative.

“I think it’s a cause well worth pursuing,” he said.