Efforts to be annexed into Mesa hit barriers - East Valley Tribune: News

Efforts to be annexed into Mesa hit barriers

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Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008 10:04 pm | Updated: 9:41 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Grace and John Cokeley’s home faces one of the busiest streets in Mesa.

They watch the Mesa Fire Department regularly respond to crashes on Power Road just outside their house. Across the street from them is the bustling Freemont Junior High School. But they’re not a part of Mesa, and they want to be.

GRAPHIC: View a map of annexation requests in Mesa

Grace and John Cokeley’s home faces one of the busiest streets in Mesa.

They watch the Mesa Fire Department regularly respond to crashes on Power Road just outside their house. Across the street from them is the bustling Freemont Junior High School. But they’re not a part of Mesa, and they want to be.

Mesa needs to revisit small-parcel annexations

But concerns about water access and safety on the county island where they live has left it up in the air whether their request to join the city will be approved.

Click to view a map of annexation requests
Mesa annexations: Mesa received 70 requests for annexation, but officials are concerned about a lack of fire hydrants and other safety issues on the county land. Crismon Rd.Signal Butte Rd.Sossaman Rd.Hawes Rd.Ellsworth Rd.Power Rd.Williams Field Rd.Guadalupe Rd.Warner Rd.GILBERTBroadway Rd.Thomas Rd.McDowell Rd.McKellips Rd.Brown Rd.University Dr.Apache TrailMain St.Southern Ave.Pecos Rd.Elliot Rd.Ray Rd.Meridian Rd.Higley Rd.Pecos Rd.Baseline Rd. Annexation request</p><p>Loop 202, U.S. 60 MARICOPA COUNTY, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, MESA, SOURCE: Mesa, Map by Scott Kirchhofer/EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE

Their annexation request, which also includes two neighboring houses that face Power Road, is among 10 annexation petitions that city officials are recommending be denied.

The officials are also concerned about additional annexation petitions among more than 70 proposed annexations in Mesa’s system, which could mean additional refusals.

Reasons for the possible refusals vary: Fire officials say the 10 they are leaning toward declining don’t have enough fire hydrants or are hooked up to a different water source, making response difficult or impossible. Other county island properties they may decline have dirt roads that sometimes become washes during flash floods, while streets in other areas may be too narrow for firetrucks to park safely.

The Cokeleys wonder why they’re on the list, given how close they are to fire hydrants and places like the school, which are already served by the Mesa Fire Department. But the closest hydrants and services are across Power Road, meaning the entire street would need to be shut down to run a fire hose across it.

Before moving to the county island, the couple had long lived in Mesa.

Grace moved to the city four decades ago. John became a resident in the 1940s and graduated from Mesa High School. Grace even worked for the city clerk’s office three decades ago, and her main goal is to be able to vote in a city election and volunteer for a city board.

They moved out of the city to the county island in 2000 because “it gave us an affordable retirement residence,” Grace Cokeley said.

“I helped to set up many city elections, so I now feel disenfranchised,” she said. “We shop and go to church in Mesa, our friends are in Mesa and many of our grandchildren attend Mesa schools. Our front yards are partially in Mesa.”

The Cokeleys’ problem arose after actions by the City Council encouraged a surge of annexation requests. Last year, the council voted to redefine what it meant to be “contiguous” or touching the city, since state law requires county landowners seeking to annex to a municipality be adjacent to that land. The city redefined that to mean that even if the land to be annexed isn’t touching the city proper, as long as the county island it is inside touches the land, then the city can consider it contiguous and annex it.

But that has caused landowners on more distant county islands to seek to join the city, from areas the city now finds too distant and not properly hooked up to water systems to make the city’s standard of response realistic.

Rich Kochanski, Mesa deputy fire chief and fire marshal, said the city has to follow stricter international fire code standards for safety and fire coverage than Rural/Metro Fire Department, the current provider to the county islands.

“Some of these homes are absolutely gorgeous,” Kochanski said. “But our access to get a firetruck down to them in some cases would be difficult.”

The city would like to work with the landowners, he said, but the safety issues stretch beyond the safety of firefighters to the safety of the public.

“If we say we can service an area, then we need to be able to do that,” he said.

A meeting is planned from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 8 to allow city officials to talk with islanders whose annexations are in question, and see if they can find a way to still accept the islands. One idea would be to require the county residents to pay for hydrants and any other upgrades before they can annex.

The price of annexation has already gone up. This is one reason to which the city attributes the surge in annexation requests. Before July 1, it cost $270 for areas smaller than five acres to annex, and $540 for five acres and more. For any annexations started after July 1, the cost is $1,300 for the first parcel and $130 for each additional parcel. In addition, annexing landowners must pay impact fees, which are $8,321 for a detached single-family house.

City planner Kim Steadman said few county island properties meet the city’s standard of having fire hydrants within 250 feet of the centerline of their land.

“There are very few hydrants in the areas developed by the county,” he said.

Gloria Rogers, 70, was born and raised in Mesa, but in 1988 moved to Dreamland Villa, a retirement community that is largely in a county island. She said she’s concerned that residents will be charged to install hydrants that in her opinion should already be there to ensure proper fire service.

“We’ve got a fire hydrant maybe every two blocks or something like that,” she said. “I’ve seen homes burn to the ground — every home that caught on fire. They’re never saved. I can see why.”

She urged the city not to hold residents responsible for the costs of fire hydrants, a cost that has added up to millions of dollars in neighboring Gilbert. The town faced the same issue — lack of adequate fire hydrants in annexed areas — as well as on county islands where it is now required to provide fire protection. Landowners on county islands formed a fire district to pay for fire protection that will be provided by the town.

“I think our best interests would be taken care of by the city as opposed to the county,” Rogers said.

Council members say they are taking the situation seriously.

During a recent council meeting, Mayor Scott Smith said, “Our objective as a council is to find a way to create a nice balance between providing these services in a manner that’s acceptable” and “not creating higher problems.”

Councilman Scott Somers is working with city staff to investigate one option that would help keep costs low for islanders who want to upgrade.

The proposal would be to create a facilities improvement district that would pay for improvements such as sewers, road improvements and fire hydrants. That would allow landowners to spread the cost of the upgrades over time.

Somers pointed out that the costs are ones already paid by current residents who have sewers and hydrants, and who either paid for the infrastructure as part of their home costs or in city fees for infrastructure.

“It’s going to be a strain for a lot of folks,” he said.

Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said he hopes the city can find a way to accept the applications for annexation and provide the upgrades the areas need to get fire service.

He doesn’t think the city should pay all the costs, though he’s open to some kind of cost-sharing. The situation is opposite from what the city has experienced in the past, when efforts to annex land were turned down by property owners.

“I don’t want to turn people away whose property is in the county, and the city has grown up around them or next to them,” he said.

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