It took about three days for bulldozers to block Thomas and Kelly Michael’s backyard view of the Superstition Mountains with a mound of loose dirt.
“My wife and I left for Chicago last Tuesday, and by the time we got back Friday morning it was — it was amazing,” said Thomas Michael, a resident of the Saguaro Mountain subdivision in east Mesa.
The Michaels and their neighbors are still in disbelief over a developer’s decision to grade the adjacent sloped property in such a manner that homes further down the hill will abut an eight-foot berm, topped by a six-foot block wall with a single-family home standing behind it.
“It’s a sleazy trick on their part,” Saguaro Mountain resident Harvey Kessler said. “They didn’t even try to preserve my view.”
But Warren Petersen, vice president of sales for V.I.P. Homes, the developer of the future Whisper Mountain Estates, said Kessler’s accusation is simply not true.
Both communities are on the same north-south slope, and Petersen said the unfortunate reality is that homes further up the hill are going to obstruct the views of those further down.
V.I.P. Homes met with Sa- guaro Mountain residents two years ago and agreed to limit the size of homes immediately adjacent to their community to one story, in order to preserve their mountain views.
Petersen said his company is keeping that promise, and it can’t control the fact that lots on a slope must be leveled in order to build.
That level grading — designed by engineering firm Hoskin Ryan Consulting and approved by Mesa engineering staff — is what has created the poor views for unlucky Saguaro Mountain homeowners, he said.
“I didn’t even know until a week or two ago that there was a grade difference (between the two communities),” Petersen said. “And we’ve already paid the graders.”
Still, the fact remains that for some homes there will be a significant difference, to the exclusive detriment of Saguaro Mountain property owners, Kelly Michael said.
The reason is that developers of the community were more careful to follow the natural desert slope, grading it in a series of two-foot steps up the hill so that each home sits just slightly above its neighbor to the south.
“I think a tiered plan is going to be a better plan,” she said, adding that it also preserves the natural flow of drainage. “This is a big impact — this is a lot of dirt.”
But the V.I.P. Homes community is also graded in tiers, said Tom Ryan of Hoskin Ryan Consulting — except there are only three, and each is eight feet above the next.
“The difference is that the lots are much larger than the adjacent lots,” Ryan said, and the grade is about five feet steeper.
The engineering firm could have increased the number of steps to 10 or 11, except that Saguaro Mountain residents did not want the Whisper Mountain Estates homes to face eastwest, which would have resulted in back-to-back rear yards.
So the company designed them facing north-south, which severely limits the possible number of steps, he said, adding that the existing residents also fought an effort by V.I.P. Homes to decrease the lot sizes, which also would have allowed more steps.
That may be true, Mesa City Councilman Rex Griswold said, but it’s obvious the builder and engineer didn’t explain to residents that those changes would have helped preserve their views.
As it stands today, Whisper Mountain Estates is shaping up to be the most egregious view-snatcher in the city, Griswold said.
“Try to find a single property in a 30-square-mile area with a step like that,” he said.
Griswold said he believes the Saguaro Mountain residents are getting the shaft, and he hopes V.I.P. Homes and city staff can work out a compromise. The two are scheduled to talk Monday, followed by a meeting with area residents later in the week.
But Petersen said the project is too far along in the process to undergo a complete redesign without causing his company significant harm.
“The time for this issue to be handled is way past,” he said.