Apache Junction, Queen Creek councils discuss issues that are important to both communities

Apache Junction Mayor John Insalaco, center, and Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, right, lead a joint meeting Aug. 25 that included elected officials and staff members from both communities. Queen Creek Vice Mayor Julia Wheatley is at left. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)

Apache Junction Mayor John Insalaco, center, and Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, right, lead a joint meeting Aug. 25 that included elected officials and staff members from both communities. Queen Creek Vice Mayor Julia Wheatley is at left. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)

Elected officials and staff members from Apache Junction and Queen Creek met Aug. 25 to share what each municipality is doing to address the needs of its community and to discuss how they can work together to achieve common goals.

“As a council, we always want to meet with and discuss what’s going on in our communities with our surrounding communities. To me this is almost like coming to a family reunion. You just about know everybody and what they think but you don’t want to take anything for granted,” Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney said during his opening remarks. “This is a great opportunity to get together to discuss some things that are important to us as smaller cities in the East Valley. We can hang separately or stand together. There are some things that are going to come to us that we’re going to need to stand together with … like we’ve done in the past.”

The joint meeting, which was hosted by the city of Apache Junction at its multi-generational center, marked the first time since 2009 the councils and staff members gathered for an agendized discussion, Queen Creek Town Manager John Kross said during an interview prior to the start of the meeting.

“This is something we hope to do on a more regular basis,” Apache Junction Vice Mayor Robin Barker said an interview prior to the start of the meeting.

In addition to Mayor Insalaco and Vice Mayor Barker, the following elected officials and staff members represented the city of Apache Junction at the meeting: council members Gail Evans, Christa Rizzi, Jeff Serdy, Dave Waldron and Chip Wilson; City Manager Bryant Powell; Assistant City Manager Matt Busby; City Attorney Joel Stern; Town Clerk Kathy Connelly; Economic Development Principal Janine Solley; Development Services Director Larry Kirch; Public Works Director Giao Pham; and interim Public Information Officer Matt McNulty.

In addition to Mayor Barney and Mr. Kross, the following elected officials and staff members represented the town of Queen Creek at the meeting: Vice Mayor Julia Wheatley; council members Craig Barnes, Robin Benning, Jeff Brown, Dawn Oliphant and Emilena Turley; Assistant Town Manager Bruce Gardner; Town Attorney Fredda Bisman, Town Clerk Jennifer Robinson; Economic Development Director Doreen Cott; Development Services Director Chris Anaradian; Public Works Director Troy White and Public Information Officer Constance Halonen-Wilson.

One topic of great interest was the Superstition Vistas Area Project, which covers 275 square miles of undeveloped Arizona state trust land in Pinal County. It is bordered in general by Apache Junction to the north, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and the town of Queen Creek to the west, San Tan Valley and Florence to the south and the Tonto National Forest to the east, according to information on the project website.

Superstition Vistas includes Lost Dutchman Heights, a 12-square-mile area in Apache Junction designated as a master-planned community, Mr. Powell said during a phone interview. However, no development is taking place, he said. Land could be sold at a public auction, he said.

“Is Superstition Vistas dead?” one council member asked at the meeting.

“It’s sleeping right now,” Vice Mayor Barker responded.

“At one time Superstition Vistas got a lot of play in the media, when there was an unsatiated interest in growth,” Mr. Powell said during his interview, “but from a planning standpoint, Lost Dutchman Heights is in the next 10 years; Superstition Vistas is 50 to 100 years out.”

Located in the path of the “megaregion” of Phoenix and Tucson, the region is expected to grow together into 15 million by 2060, according to the project website. According to Census Bureau estimates released in March, the estimated 2014 population of Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties totaled about 5.5 million.

The council members also discussed the North-South Corridor Study for a proposed 45-mile-long transportation corridor in Pinal County being developed by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Several routes have been proposed but, in general, the corridor would start in the area of U.S. Highway 60 in Apache Junction to the north, and pass near Queen Creek, San Tan Valley and Florence in its way south to Interstate 10 near Eloy and Picacho, according to materials on the ADOT website.

Another major transportation route — State Route 24, also known as the Gateway Freeway — also was discussed. The first mile of the freeway opened in April 2014, after contractors for the Arizona Department of Transportation finished constructing freeway-to-freeway traffic interchange ramps from the adjacent Loop 202 Santan Freeway to Ellsworth Road.

Construction of the $73 million project began in March 2012. SR24 was expected to next head east from Ellsworth Road to Ironwood Drive south of Apache Junction and north of Queen Creek, according to ADOT’s website.

Additional phases of the project have been suspended until the North-South Corridor Study advances, according to the website.

Council members suggested holding further discussion of the state land and transportation projects in order to come to an agreement about what aspects of the projects would benefit their communities.

“In the long run our ability to work together and have an agreed-upon boundary might play well with the state land commission,” Mr. Brown said.

Vice Mayor Barker also said during the meeting she would not like to see the city of Mesa or other communities jump into the discussion concerning Superstition Vistas and force Apache Junction to annex the state land. She suggested the creation of a written document to educate future officials about how the current councils feel about the subjects.
After the meeting, Ms. Oliphant said the joint meeting was worthwhile.

“I realized we’re kind of the same but kind of different in that we have land available in both our communities but (both municipalities) lack ownership and infrastructure,” the Queen Creek councilwoman said during an interview. “Apache Junction has land but it belongs to the state and it’s not developed. Queen Creek has a lot of land but it’s privately owned and it’s not developed.”

Ms. Rizzi called the meeting an “eye-opener.”

“Queen Creek’s median age is 29 and median income is $80,000. That’s tough to compete with. They have a lot of highly educated people with a lot of energy and money to spend and Queen Creek is certainly rising to the occasion. They do a fantastic job of creating events and festivals that draw people and keep their community members entertained and, in turn, generate more business,” the Apache Junction councilwoman said during an interview. “This is why it’s so important for Apache Junction to work on creating more events and festivals. Not only are we competing with our sister communities but we desperately need to bring in more business.

“Meeting with fellow leaders gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn what is working in our neighboring communities and how we can better serve our community and those who visit here.”

Due to scheduling conflicts, Mayor Barney said the council is unable to attend a joint meeting on a regular basis. However, he said he looks forward to continuing to discuss issues the communities have in common with Mayor Insalaco, with whom he serves on the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority board of directors, and other officials.

“We’re both vibrant, growing communities with a little bit different aspect,” Mayor Barney said. “What goes in Queen Creek may not fly in Apache Junction and vice versa, but working together we can supply just about anything anybody in the East Valley needs and wants.”


Reach staff writer Wendy Miller at wmiller@newszap.com

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