Simonton Ranch: Camp Verde's orphan development

First planned in 1999 as the Homestead, Simonton Ranch continues to defy efforts to develop its commercial, industrial and residential parcels.

First planned in 1999 as the Homestead, Simonton Ranch continues to defy efforts to develop its commercial, industrial and residential parcels.

CAMP VERDE - When the Camp Verde Town Council approved the Homestead 11 years ago, the 360-acre commercial and residential development was anticipated to become the gateway to town.

Situated near the entrance at State Route 260 and Interstate 17, it was also to be the town's first large-scale planned area development and meant to set a standard as to how the town would grow.

But the last 11 yeas have been nothing less than a long and cruel trick played on those who sought to build the project, if not the community at large.

Fed up with the Camp Verde Sanitary District's inability to provide sewer to the development, Harvard Investments, the original designer and developer of the project, sold Homestead to Mesa developer Scott Simonton in 2004.

Simonton had arrived on the Camp Verde scene a year or so earlier when he bailed out the struggling developer of the Views subdivision. It was also about the same time the town's political mood was shifting from a no-growth to a pro-growth town council.

After changing the development's name to Simonton Ranch, Simonton set about redesigning it in his own, as well as that of the sitting council's, image.

He dropped 500 of the 1,100 homes originally planned by Harvard. He reworked the access points, increased the commercial acreage and added an industrial section. He and the other developers who bought into the project have poured millions of dollars into the project.

Today, with the exception of the Dollar General store, Simonton Ranch is a weed patch.

State of affairs

Simonton Ranch is composed of six subdivisions, a 17-acre industrial park and an additional 87 acres of commercial property.

For the owners of the subdivisions, the situation is dismal.

The largest subdivision, the 63-acre, 252-lot Silverado subdivision at the center of the project, will be auctioned at a trustee sale on July 15. Owned by Allen Willis of Haven Homes, the subdivision was the only one that was given final plat approval and recorded with the county.

Summerset, the second largest in terms of lots, with 104, received preliminary plat in March 2007, but because it was never brought forth for final plat, the preliminary plat has expired.

Town Council approvals of preliminary plats for Elk Creek, a 94-lot subdivision still owned by Simonton, and Water's Edge, a 10-lot high-end subdivision owned by Al Dupuy of ALD Development, have also expired.

Homestead, the 52-lot namesake subdivision owned by Robert Fuller of Chartwell Homes, received final plat approval from the council, but was never recorded. Because it has been more than a year without being recorded, it must go back to the Town Council for approval.

The same is the case with River's View, a 15-lot, one-acre home site subdivision near the back of the property, also owned by ALD Development.

Simonton sold off the commercial properties shortly after the new Simonton Ranch received council approval. Rick Reed and Kelly Sands purchased the bulk of it, about 70 acres according to Simonton. They sold 30 acres to Northern Arizona Healthcare, parent company of the Verde Valley Medical Center.

Simonton has retained ownership of the 17-acre industrial park, to which he has recently brought a sewer line.

Holding pattern

"We've been in a kind of holding pattern trying to decide what the best coarse of action is," Fuller said, "but right now it doesn't look like it's going to get much better any time soon."

Like the other landowners in Simonton Ranch, Fuller noted that in the beginning their projects were held up by the sewer not being built. However, once it was built the economy fell off and they now felt they were being "held up" in a different sense.

"Right after the sewer was done, the market was gone and we were wishing we wouldn't have done it. I'm paying $20,000 a year in taxes. Most of it is for the sewer. That's $20,000 a year just to sit and look at it.

"We're pretty smart when the timing's right. But when the timing isn't right, we're not very smart," Fuller said.

Problems

What the future holds for the development, the developers and the Town will depend on the actions of the Town Council as much as the economy.

With most of the subdivisions having expired plats, they will need to go back before a new council for approval once again.

The council will also have to decide on the future of Silverado, which, although it was approved and recorded, has yet to be constructed.

Under the Town's subdivision code, the council may revoke a subdivision's final plat if no lots have been sold and if the improvements have not been made in three years. Silverado was recorded on July 6, 2006.

One of the problems with Silverado is the same one that plagues the owners of property in the Views subdivision -- the roads were designed to be so narrow they present problems when it comes to on-street parking.

"Under the engineering standards we are drafting, the roads in Silverado would not pass muster. I would never recommend approving such a design," Town Engineer Ron Long said.

The same narrow engineering specifications for roads exist in other subdivisions within the development.

There is also a question of the assurances that infrastructure would be completed within the subdivision. Under the current development agreement, there is no assurance bond required -- only a stipulation that certificates of occupancy for homes be withheld until the work is completed.

"That works OK for a tract home subdivision, but not necessarily for one where custom homes are built," said Mike Jenkins, acting community development director

A Challenge

Before he left, former Town Manger Mike Scannell asked his staff to review Simonton Ranch, with the idea that the council should give it another look while it is in limbo.

"We have spent numerous hours reviewing the subdivision, past and present. It does have problems. Some things wouldn't pass our new codes. Ultimately, though, it will be the council's decision as to how they want to handle it," Jenkins said.

Simonton Ranch is what Jenkins says is a relatively new word in the municipal planning lingo, an "orphan subdivision."

"They are in almost every community in every state that was experiencing phenomenal growth prior to the collapse," Jenkins said. "They are a challenge for all of us. And will probably continue to be a challenge for some time."

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