A recent house fire raised the stakes for both sides in the struggle over controlling traffic over a mile-long strip of road through a Gilbert county island, with a judge ordering removal of traffic barriers and residents seeking to privatize the street.
Residents of Fairview Street, about a quarter-mile north of Pecos Road between Greenfield and Higley roads, blocked off the west end about two years ago, following four years of talks with Maricopa County over traffic-calming options.
The orange barrels and lightweight chains went up in an effort to keep traffic from streaming in from Discovery Park and an exit off Loop 202. A nearly completed apartment complex in the same area, approved by Gilbert in 2004, is expected to bring more congestion.
The county filed an emergency motion for removal of the barriers after a Dec. 20 fire destroyed a home on Fairview. The motion was granted by Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer on Jan. 12.
“They’re going to come down on (Jan.) 26th. That’s going to be a mess,” said Leni Cazden, who lives on the eastern end of Fairview at Higley Road.
Cazden said she plans to appeal Kreamer’s decision, but she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to do that before the barriers are removed.
Nicolaas Swart, a county traffic engineer, said the traffic barriers were never meant to be a permanent solution for a rural street where traffic counts had reached more than 1,600 vehicles a day.
“The permit was always for a temporary barricade to put in place to allow the homeowners along the road time to come up with a more permanent solution, which was to privatize the roadway,” Swart said.
Fairview resident Scott Davis said residents should have a proposal for privatizing the road to the county next week. The owners of all but one of about 50 properties along Fairview have agreed to the privatized road. Residents need 100 percent approval. As a result, only the eastern half-mile of Fairview, between Higley and 164th Street, can be privatized.
Davis said residents have been working with an engineer on plans for privatizing the road, which will have to go to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for approval. The most likely scenarios are installing automated and/or “crash” gates on each end of that section of road or turning it into a cul-de-sac with access from 164th Street.
Something needs to be done, he said, because the lifestyle his family and others lead along Fairview just can’t coexist with large volumes of traffic.
“We have two kids and there are lots of neighbor kids, so they’re constantly have a flow of kids back and forth. They may be on a horse, or they may be on a bicycle, but when you get somebody going 50 mph through here who doesn’t know how to drive around horses, that’s when you could get a disaster,” said Davis, who’s lived on the street for seven years. “That’s why we’re doing this, we’re protecting our safety and our kids’ safety.”
Gilbert Town Manager George Pettit said he hadn’t heard about the efforts to privatize Fairview and didn’t know if the town would lodge any kind of an objection. But Gilbert does often deal with private streets within gated communities.
“Clearly as the fire and public safety provider we would prefer public streets with unfettered access, and if the street is going to be private, we would prefer that they meet our standards so our crews would know what to expect,” he said.
The issue has gained greater attention in the last few weeks with the house fire that Gilbert officials say ended up illustrating everything that made them wary of taking on responsibility for fire protection in county islands.
The fire, in which no one was injured but the house was leveled, put the Gilbert Fire Department’s response to Gilbert County Island Fire District areas now under its jurisdiction to the test.
Some would say the fire department failed the test, though a delayed call for service contributed to the destruction.
“All of these issues made this fire the perfect storm,” Gilbert Fire Chief Collin Dewitt said at a meeting of the Gilbert County Island Fire District board on Tuesday. “Maps were faulty, we had the water issue, everything we were concerned about happening did.”
Dewitt told the board a delayed call for service exacerbated the situation; the owner tried to douse the roof fire with a hose until a neighbor called 911.
Ten trucks ended up responding, including two from the Queen Creek department and one from Chandler. Some followed county satellite maps which indicated Fairview went through to Greenfield Road, and firefighters cut the chain to get past the barrier.
Once they were there, the nearest hydrant firefighters could find was across Higley Road, forcing them to close the road briefly.
There were two that would have been better situated, but one was hidden by weeds and block walls had been built on both sides of the other. Dewitt said his department is working with the county to get an updated map.
Some residents say their street shouldn’t have to be opened to through traffic because of what they view as incompetence. A Mesa Fire Department captain who lives on Fairview sent a letter critical of the response, and Cazden, who was elected to the fire district board last fall, comparing it to the Keystone Kops.
Cazden calls the situation a reflection of Gilbert officials’ overall attitude toward longtime county island residents: “They built the city around us and then say we don’t belong.”