Development In White Tank Mountains: Surprise City Council Weighs Joining Conservancy

Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 9:33pm
Updated: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 - 7:19am

About an hour outside of Phoenix, a lot of people think of the White Tank Mountains as the middle of nowhere. But, that’s not going to be the case in the near future, according to Ian Dowdy with the White Tank Mountains Conservancy.

“The reality is, they’re completely surrounded by planned development,” he said.

Planned communities in the areas surrounding the White Tanks will cover more than 300,000 new single-family homes and could bring up to 1.5 million people to the area, according to Dowdy.

“The White Tanks, in about 30 or 40 years, will be completely surrounded by urban development,” he said, “and the wildlife and the natural scenic resources that exist in that mountain range could well be threatened by that development, cutting off the natural ecological function of that landscape.”

The White Tank Mountains Conservancy was formed in 2014 to bring together conservationists, developers and West Valley cities to balance those environmental concerns with the impending development in the area. Now, the city of Surprise is considering joining the conservancy.

Buckeye, Peoria and Youngtown are already members, Dowdy said.

The Surprise City Council is set to discuss joining the group at its meeting Tuesday. There is a one-time $25,000 fee to join and the city has included it in its fiscal year 2017 budget.

Eric Fitzer, Surprise community development director, with the City of Surprise, said the White Tanks are an asset to the city and to developers.

“We do want the development to happen, but we want to make sure that we do it properly,” he said.

They’re looking at how land was developed in Scottsdale near the McDowell Mountain Preserve as they approach the issue, he said.

A lot of the land near the White Tanks in Surprise is state trust land, owned by the Arizona State Land Department, according to Fitzer. So, he said they’re working with the Department to figure out how to plan the future development of those lands, while protecting the White Tanks and boosting the Land Department’s property value.

Fitzer said, often, when you’re dealing with private land owners, they’re eager to sell. 

“The state land department doesn’t work that way,” he said. “The state land department is in no hurry to sell necessarily these lands. So, it’s nice to have a property owner such as that to partner with.”

According to Fitzer, Surprise wants development out there to look like D.C. Ranch in Scottsdale or Verrado in Buckeye, up-scale communities that allow access to the mountain preserve for their residents and the wider community.

Dowdy said developers also value preservation as they build because those are important amenities to potential buyers.

The White Tanks are incredibly well preserved with herds of deer, mountain lions and javelina. According to Dowdy, one of the reasons they formed this conservancy was because they saw it as an opportunity to shape the impending development before it’s all set in stone.

“There is an adage that the folks in the wildlife community talk about. They always say, ‘there are no deer in Deer Valley,’” he said. There used to be deer there, though. “So, now, in the far West Valley, we’re looking at the White Tank Mountains with a very proactive lens.”

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