Opinion: What would 2,800 more cars on Sonoran Desert Drive look like?

The Sonoran Preserve — a majestic and unspoiled 9,600-acre Desert Preserve right here in northwest Phoenix, a beloved escape for the Phoenix-area road cyclist and mountain biker.

For the roadies, Sonoran Desert Drive offers up miles of scenic unspoiled desert vistas and low car traffic. Pro cyclist and WorldTour rider Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) is known to train here.

It’s also is haven for triathletes seeking to rack up saddle time for their next Ironman. For MTBers, the preserve itself offers up miles of single track trails over a variety of terrain. On any given weekend, hundreds of cyclists flock here to enjoy the sport they love within the confines of Phoenix.

We’re all lucky that in 1998, Phoenix not only set aside land but also set up zoning laws that would prohibit high density housing suburbs from encroaching adjacent to the preserve. This way recreational users of the preserve wouldn’t see a wall of homes along its edge.

Encroaching development

Sadly our escape might never be the same.

Last November, home developer Taylor Morrison announced it was proposing to build a massive 1,400-home development not only immediately adjacent to the Sonoran Preserve but within earshot of the Apache Wash Trailhead (the main trailhead where we all gear up), on a 480-acre piece of privately owned land referred to as MacEwan 480.

To build their 1,400 homes, they are asking the City of Phoenix to remove the preserve’s protective zoning ordinance called the “Desert Character Overlay.” This ordinance was written specifically for the preserve to mandate low density housing (1.2 homes per acre), wildlife and desert viewing corridors and native desert plants along the Sonoran Preserve border, all in order to maintain the “desert character” in it’s namesake.

They are also asking to remove several other zoning ordinances and “limit-lines” restrictions that prohibit urban sprawl and encourage smart development. Without a rezone, Taylor Morrison would be limited to approximately 473 homes.

2,800 more cars?

Let me be clear, I’m not anti-development; I just want Taylor Morrison and all other developers in this particular stretch of land to respect the current zoning laws, instead of changing them for their benefit. Nothing more, nothing less.

Build your 480 homes as permitted, but please don’t change the rules to build 1,400. As a cyclist I know 1,400 homes means about 2,800 more cars on Sonoran Desert Drive, something that puts us at risk for a “car vs. bike” injury or worse.

I formed the Save Our Sonoran Preserve (SOS-P) advocacy group to help get the word out about what’s happening to our beloved preserve. The word is getting out quickly. We have over 945 Facebook members and numerous advocacy groups and recreational users of the preserve (Sierra Club, Phoenix Mountain Preservation Council, Arizona’s Mountaineering Club) that have joined forces to advocate and demand that home developers follow the existing zoning laws.

If you want to keep informed and help protect your preserve, join our Facebook page “Save Our Sonoran Preserve Phoenix,” email us at saveoursonoranpreserve@gmail.com or check out our website: www.saveoursonoranpreserve.com.

Even better, take a moment and email Councilman Jim Waring (who will be deciding whether to permit the rezone) at: council.district.2@phoenix.gov and the Desert View VPC at: DesertViewVPC@phoenix.gov and tell them how you feel about 1,400 homes in your happy place.

Gary Kirkilas is the co-founder of Save Our Sonoran Preserve (SOS-P).