A worn wooden sign in front of Helen Pace’s home reads "CHEAP RAILROAD TIES."
After 32 years of living on a 40-acre farm near McQueen and Germann roads, Pace, 81, is selling everything — her farmland, her home and the old wooden railroad ties that her husband used to build a fence for a horse arena in the back of their house.
Maricopa County is buying Pace’s front yard and home to expand McQueen Road from two lanes to six between Pecos and Queen Creek roads.
Pace is the first to say the traffic-jammed McQueen Road needs widening and she’s not bitter about moving out. But driving by her land in the future and not seeing her home, "It’s going to be quite heartbreaking," she said.
Fast-paced development in south Chandler is slowly swallowing up much of the agricultural land there.
"I don’t think there’s going to be any (farmland) left in three years," Pace said. "The people who’ve moved here recently won’t know the difference."
She added, "Chandler was — was farming."
Last week, Pace sold the last of her land but portions of it may still retain some of the openness she enjoyed. A church, ballfields and a stable are among plans the buyers have for the land, Pace said. The area is in the county though it’s surrounded by incorporated Chandler land.
Subdivisions and corner shopping centers are now the norm in south Chandler. And Pace plans to move this summer into one of the new subdivisions just five miles south of where she is.
"I’ve never lived where I’ve had neighbors," said Pace, adding that now she’ll be part of a homeowners association.
Pace moved to Chandler with her husband, Phillip, in 1951, and bought the farm on McQueen Road 20 years later to grow hay, cotton, corn and other crops.
They knew all the farmers in the area and most of the people living in Chandler. Phillip Pace, who died 10 years ago, enjoyed roping while Helen Pace preferred riding horses across the state with other women.
Helen Pace, a licensed Realtor, watched the East Valley grow, but didn’t guess it would spread to her farmland.
Helen Pace said she misses the quiet and openness but she likes the new mall and the nearby grocery stores. Her friends have convinced her to stay in the city rather than move to another small town like many south Chandler farmers have.
Though McQueen is lined by other dairy farms and modest old homes, Helen Pace is the only one who will have to move, said Nariman Zadeh, a project manager for Maricopa County Department of Transportation.
Area development and the 2005 opening of the San Tan Freeway stretch of Loop 202 will require a road that can handle increased traffic safely, he said. The $11.7 million road improvement is expected to be ready in time for the new freeway. "It’s always saddening to me to see all this wonderful farmland change to commercial or residential," Zadeh said.