Margo Cibella for years has allowed the public to use a privately owned alleyway behind her north Scottsdale home to access Mescal Park.
But after what she claimed were trail users who set her hay on fire, trashed her property and threatened to beat her dog to death, Cibella said she has had enough.
About three weeks ago, Cibella and her husband, Ron, closed the gates to their portion of the 16-foot-wide utility easement behind their house along 68th Place north of Cholla Street, where they have lived for about 30 years.
But Scottsdale officials are now considering seizing the easement from Cibella and her neighbors via eminent domain to reopen the trail, in response to horse owners who say they don't want to ride on city streets to get to Mescal Park, a public equestrian park.
Cibella said she doesn't mind giving up the land for a trail, as long as Scottsdale ensures her privacy by increasing the height of her 6-foot concrete wall along the path to 9 feet. Other neighbors who own a stake in the easement, however, are not buying into the city's proposal.
"We do not want an equestrian trail in our backyard. Our privacy and the enjoyment of our backyard is non-negotiable," Dave Hook told the City Council last week. "The only way you are going to get our property is through condemnation. We are not going to give it up."
Hook has gated off their portion of the easement, but he said he doesn't favor putting in a tall privacy wall.
"I don't want to feel like I'm in a prison," he said.
Hook's wife, Shelly, said trail users no longer show the same courtesy they did when the couple moved in.
"Historically, the equestrians that rode through were very nice, respectful," Hook said. "A lot of things have changed since 1978."
CITY TRAIL PLANS
Cibella said Arizona Public Service, the electric utility, installed the easement in the 1960s to access power lines that run behind the houses. Homeowners along the easement have title to the land up to the easement's center line. APS still uses the easement occasionally to repair outages, Cibella said.
Reed Kempton, the city's principal transportation planner, said the easement - essentially a dirt path that stretches south from Cactus Road to Mescal Park, just south of Cholla Street - has been identified as a trail corridor in Scottsdale's general plan since 1991, and is listed in the 2004 Trails Master Plan as a local trail.
Officials have identified three options for a trail. One alternative is to condemn the easement from the property owners and use it for a multipurpose trail.
The second option is to connect Mescal Park to Cactus Road via 64th Street, at a cost of about $314,000. The third is to do it via 68th Street for about $177,000.
On Sept. 18, the city's Transportation Commission voted to recommend placing the trail in the utility easement. Kempton said to do that, the city would have to buy or seize a .63-mile strip of land from private owners, at an estimated cost of $475,000, in addition to the project's $150,000 design and construction cost.
Dave Meinhart, transportation planning and transit director, said if the city agreed to build the 9-foot privacy walls homeowners have asked for, it could add an additional $1.6 million to the cost, for a total price of more than $2.2 million.
Cibella, however, said she believes the walls could be built for much less.
On Sept. 23, the City Council voted to focus on the easement as the primary option for the proposed public trail, but asked city staff for more information on addressing privacy issues, cost, the potential impact of privacy walls on the trail and the cost of maintenance.
PUBLIC ACCESS VS. PRIVACY
Equestrians like Tina Roderique said it's unfair of the homeowners to cut off access to the easement.
"Now, because of a few neighbors who do not like people riding horses near their homes, they have subsequently blocked these historic trails and we can no longer get to the park easily or safely," Roderique told the City Council.
Putting the trail on 64th Street or 68th Street would be bad for horses, she said.
"Horses and pavement do not mix," Roderique said. "Asking a horse fitted with iron shoes to walk on pavement for a period of time is like asking them to put on a pair of ice skates and take a spin."
Cibella, who has nine horses and two donkeys on her property, said that over the years, joggers have begun to use the trail starting at 4 a.m., causing dogs along the easement to start barking. She's had about $5,000 worth of hay set on fire in her yard because of a trail user's carelessly tossed cigarette.
One man on horseback even threatened to bludgeon her elderly dog to death with a bat, she said.
"There have been beer cans, soda bottles, water bottles, trash. They're bringing their dogs and kids and leaving their trash," Cibella said.
People on horseback can also see over her fence and across her property, she said.
"C'mon, guys, you're invading our privacy," she said. "When you're mounted on a horse, even a small woman on a horse will have an 8-foot sight line. We've had people wave to us in our pool."
The complaints about riding horses on asphalt are exaggerated, Cibella said. She said people who do not live along the easement have to ride on public streets to get to it.
During initial neighborhood meetings with city officials about the easement, Cibella said she was put off by some residents' sense of entitlement to use her land.
"You know what, these people don't seem to think we live in the United States," she said.
Mayor Mary Manross said she's skeptical about raising the walls along the trail for neighbors' privacy.
"I'm concerned that we're producing a canyon here that wouldn't be conducive to nice riding or neighborhoods," Manross said.
City Councilwoman Betty Drake said the easement makes the most sense for the trail, since most users live in the neighborhood.
"The idea of putting it over on 64th Street doesn't serve anyone at all," she said.
The proposed Mescal Park trail should be given a high priority, Drake said. However, she acknowledged that adjacent homeowners have "very valid concerns."
"Equestrian neighborhoods like this are an endangered species," she said. "They put the horse in the heart of Scottsdale."