Neighbors of Northsight Park are questioning whether city planning officials' endorsement of a privacy wall means Scottsdale is compromising its principles on equestrian trails in a giveaway to developers.
The 19-acre park sits on the northwest corner of Thunderbird Road and Loop 101. The surrounding neighborhood to the south and west is heavily populated by horse enthusiasts like Anne Scotford and her family.
Scotford said the developers' request for a chunk of land to build a privacy wall means a 20-foot-wide equestrian trail there would be reduced to only 8 feet wide, which isn't enough room to ride a horse safely.
"Horses spook. They're a prey animal," she said. "You've got to be able to turn them around to face what has scared them."
Representatives of the developer, however, say they have gone above and beyond city mandates in trying to accommodate the concerns of those neighbors.
"We're doing more than is required by the city manuals and policies," said John Berry, lawyer for Calvis Wyant, developers of the planned Cavallo Estates residential subdivision, situated adjacent to the park.
Calvis Wyant demolished the Pretty Penny Ranch commercial horse boarding facility - on Northsight Park's western border - this summer to make way for Cavallo Estates, where they plan 11 houses on 1-acre lots.
The developers' 40-foot-wide roadway easement extends to the middle of 84th Street - the park's southern driveway. The easement currently includes the 20-foot-wide equestrian trail used by the Scotfords and many of their neighbors.
A proposed deal, scheduled for City Council consideration on Dec. 2, calls for reducing the equestrian trail to 8 feet wide so the developer can build a privacy wall and plant some landscaping for several planned homes bordering the park. Scottsdale would get ownership of the eastern half of the easement in exchange, to preserve the southern vehicular access to the park.
The city's Planning Commission voted unanimously on Oct. 1 to recommend that the City Council approve the deal. However, Erica Bruno, city planning spokeswoman, said the commission also suggested the developers do something to assuage the fears of numerous neighbors who have objected to the plan.
"They've asked the developer to work with the city to respond to residents' concerns about whether the 8-foot path is safe," Bruno said.
Berry said the proposed horse trail meets city design guidelines, and that an additional multiuse trail runs along the east side of 84th Street.
Scotford said that trail is paved, which is bad for horses. Berry, however, said the paved trail is on public land and is the city's responsibility.
Furthermore, the developer is installing a horse trail along Thunderbird Road at the southern edge of Cavallo Estates, even though the subdivision will not be geared tow equestrians.
Robin Scotford, Anne's husband, said development plans for Northsight Park dating back to 1972 show the North 84th Street/Northsight Park equestrian easement as it is today.
"We would like to just live with the existing design," he said. "They're shrinking it down to a point where we feel it's unsafe."
Anne said neighbors are not opposed to the redevelopment of Pretty Penny Ranch, just the narrowing of the equestrian trail.
"Everybody was sad to learn the horse boarding facilities were leaving, but we all understand progress. Life goes on," she said.
The Northsight Park trail connects to a much larger regional equestrian trail system, Scotford said.
"We try to use it about once a week," she said. "This is a whole trail system. You can actually go for a nice long trail ride."
Robin, who serves on a city trails planning task force, said sacrificing the trail for the sake of private development runs contrary to the city's mission of promoting those trails.
"We talk about these exact issues at these meetings and we try to prevent this from happening," he said.
It's not the first time the desires of the developers have clashed with neighbors. Previously, the developers planned to put the primary entrance to the Cavallo Estates subdivision on North 84th Street - using the developers' roadway easement - essentially funneling traffic onto the park's driveway. But neighborhood opposition forced the developers to relocate the entrance to 81st Street, and then again to Thunderbird Road, according to city documents.
Berry said the Thunderbird Road entrance was the least desirable location, and that the developer agreed to move the vehicle entrance three times in response to neighbors' concerns.