The process of municipal incorporation provides a legal avenue for Arizona’s communities to become independent and have a local governing body that is more responsive to the direct needs of its citizens. It also gives the citizens of a given area the power of self-determination and to have the control to facilitate responsible growth by protecting vital natural resources. This is beneficial for Arizona at the local level, and a state level, as it reduces the dependence of large communities on county government. Instead, this process employs a municipal government which is the best suited form of government for concentrated communities with common interests.
Home Builders Association of Central Arizona teamed up with a small group of disgruntled citizens that opposed a recent incorporation effort to push for legislation both this legislative session, and last legislative session. The language adds arduous constraints and burdensome requirements to the already restrictive process of incorporation. Last session, the effort was met with opposition and did not make it to the finish line. During this extremely busy and controversial session, however; mirror bills were run in both chambers of the Legislature and the new law overriding incorporation was signed by the governor.
The residential construction industry is continually building wildcat developments and master planned communities in unincorporated county land where county government — already burdened by too much work given the influx of development — cannot give long-term impacts adequate attention. These scattered developments incur the costs of developing a community but do so in a way that is free from municipal regulations that are put in place to protect the livelihood and livability of the community. The builders also avoid the maintenance cost going forward. The county incurs the costs of roads, police, fire coverage, zoning problems, and natural disasters. The builders bank the profits and move on to do it again.
Many of these developments hardly meet the 100-year water supply requirements and with the allowance of ground water to meet that requirement legislated in 2017, will heavily draw on resources not easily replaced in a continuing drought. People impacted by this drain on resources cannot call on the developer. They will instead seek the county government to plead for annexation by the nearest town. Thanks to efforts by Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, incorporation will be nearly impossible. They have successfully changed Arizona law in a manner that is inconsistent with prior legislative intent and eroded the rights of the people to petition for self-determination.
The new law has multiple impractical provisions that require petitioners to wait until larger surrounding municipalities give them permission before they can even begin to collect signatures while cementing impossible disclosure requirements — such as publishing entire meets and bounds descriptions in local circulating newspapers. Meets and bounds descriptions are highly technical, difficult to understand and could easily fill an entire full-size page in a newspaper; never to be read by anyone.
The newly added restraints also require incorporation seekers to track down all “planned community associations” and to give each of them individual notice, and then submit a filing with the county that includes each developer’s personal information and permission to incorporate within the proposed boundary. Now, this must be done before the petitioners even begin collecting signatures. This makes a timeline not only dependent upon surrounding municipalities decisions, but also the will of the developments in the area and thereby unattainable. The changes substitute the citizens’ right to choose self-government for developers’ profits.
This new law is detrimental to rural unincorporated Arizona and is inconsistent with our prior Legislature’s intent to encourage communities to incorporate. Now, with growth in Arizona expanding at an exponential rate, the law has tipped in favor of the short-term goals of small-scale home builders at a grave cost to large communities in unincorporated Arizona. The interest of the profit-motivated construction industry has replaced fundamental rights of Arizona citizens and will have injurious long-term negative effects on the overall development of Arizona’s communities — effectively halting future incorporation efforts.
With wildcat and master planned community development, Arizona is becoming a fractured state of conflicting water usage, and enormous drains on our resources are uncontrolled. Unplanned developments are springing up wherever developers see a profit to be made and the local community is left without a say in how their community is developed. Once the development is sold, the profits from it, as well as the entity that developed it, disappear and someone else is left to deal with the financial and environmental deficits. Before the builders changed the law, the only way these unincorporated communities could fight back and take control of their future was through municipal incorporation. Thanks to them, the people of these Arizona communities are now left completely helpless.
David Thompson led the political action committee during the last municipal incorporation attempt in New River.
Steven Scharboneau is an attorney and vice chair of the Phoenix Rio Visa Village Planning Committee.