As huge East Mesa rezoning nears OK, farm exodus begins The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

As huge East Mesa rezoning nears OK, farm exodus begins

As huge East Mesa rezoning nears OK, farm exodus begins
Mesa
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East Mesa dairy farmer Jim Boyle is already dismantling his dairy farms, moving operations to his farm in Casa Grande. (Chris Mortenson/Tribune Staff Photographer)

 

By Jim Walsh, Tribune Staff Writer

Urban sprawl may level Jim Boyle’s bucolic East Mesa dairy farm and force him to move his home and operation to Casa Grande, but he’s okay with that.

Despite the more than 40 years his family has tended his two farms near Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, Boyle and four other neighboring dairy families aren’t afraid of the coming upheaval in their lives.

Indeed,, they’ve been looking forward to it.

The upheaval will come if  the Hawes Crossing proposal – a large controversial zoning case with astronomically high financial stakes – gets Mesa City Council approval later this month.

The measure to rezone hundreds of acres in the area is to be introduced tomorrow, Feb. 10, with a final council vote slated Feb. 24.

If Council okays the rezoning, Boyle and four neighboring dairy farmers will be following the path taken by other agricultural enterprises in the East Valley over the past few decades: moving to more suitable locations elsewhere.

The Arizona Land Department also is hoping for zoning approval, but for a somewhat different reason.

Because 595 acres of undeveloped state land in the 1,100-acre proposal is along the Loop 202 and near the airport, it is expected to  yield a bonanza for Arizona at auction.

A state Land Department official estimated the property – earmarked for major commercial development as well as large residential projects – could raise tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions, for public schools.

Boyle knew it was inevitable that he and his fellow dairymen would join an inexorable exodus from an area where they made their livelihood for decades.

Dairy farms have become increasingly rare in the East Valley.

Statistics provided by the United Dairymen of Arizona, a farm cooperative, show that the dairies have been moving either south to Pinal County or west to Buckeye and Gila Bend.

The United Dairymen list four co-op members in Mesa, two in Chandler and Gilbert, one in Queen Creek, 18 in Pinal County, 6 in Litchfield Park, Tolleson and Tonopah and 20 in Buckeye and Gila Bend.

“People are moving out of the way from urban sprawl,’’ said Ed Martin, director of the University of Arizona’s extension service in Mesa.

“These folks are business savvy,’’ he said. “You are always looking 10 years down the road.’’

Boyle’s flight from East Mesa, along with that of four other dairy families, depends on Mesa City Council’s approval of  zoning changes required to make Hawes Crossing possible.

The plan’s controversial part is the mixed-use development’s location – about two miles from the airport, one of Mesa’s primary economic development engines.

Councilman Kevin Thompson and economic development advocates oppose Hawes Crossing because they fear the impact of residential encroachment on the airport.

They say homeowners will become angry about the inevitable noise from air traffic, eventually demanding restrictions on flights even though they will be required to sign a document when they buy their house that acknowledges the noise is likely.

Airport officials have not opposed Hawes Crossing because it falls in Airport Overflight Area III – just like much of East Mesa – where residential housing is considered compatible.

But they have warned the council that noise complaints are likely, especially when new houses turn over to their second or third owner.

Mesa would require a series of notifications about the homes’ close proximity to the airport if the rezoning and annexation are approved. Even directional signs with pictures of airplanes are part of the plan.

Thompson has been a part of a vocal minority of one, however; no other council members have spoken  out against the proposal at a series of study sessions.

“We saw the writing on the wall in the 90s,’’ Boyle said, remarking, “you can flip an alfalfa field into a development’’ with relative ease.

“Developers have a tendency to skip over the dairies,’’ he said, because of the time and costs required for them to move equipment, cows and farm families’ homes to another location.

Boyle was well aware that he needed to find a new location eventually. He bought a farm in Casa Grande to grow feed for his cows.

In the end, Boyle ended up with 3,500 head of cows at his Casa Grande dairy and 2,500 in Mesa. Recently, he moved virtually all his Mesa dairy cows to Casa Grande.

Because his land is on a county island near Elliot and Hawes Road and zoned for one house per acre, Boyle knew his options for selling the property were limited.

The neighboring dairy families were in the same predicament, so they banded together and invested in the planning of Hawes Crossing.

The move was necessary, Boyle said, because all the farms were built in the late 1970s and are aging. Boyle’s father bought the land in 1978 and started the dairy farm.

After 40 years, a major capital improvement is required. The situation is not surprising, with dairy farms typically needing to upgrade equipment every 30 years or so, he said.

It makes more sense, Boyle said, to spend money at a facility in a location more suitable for farming, where he can dispose of his manure easier and buy feed for his cows.

“We have to replace $200,000 in equipment right away. I can’t justify that now with the planning matter up in the air,’’ Boyle said.

Boyle closed down his antiquated milk house and started trucking his cows down to Casa Grande when they were old enough and big enough to produce milk.

“We need to do something with these cows really soon,’’ Boyle told the Mesa Planning and Zoning Board in October shortly before it voted to recommend approval of Hawes Crossing on a 3-2 vote.

Boyle said the other farmers have exit plans too, but that with all the equipment and cows involved, a move likely will take several months.

Boyle gets irritated when some people look at the dairy farmers’ proposal as a get-rich-quick scheme.

“I don’t want to make a quick buck off this thing,’’ he said.

Instead, he looks at it as not only his livelihood but his legacy.

“We thought we would do this in a big piece,’’ Boyle said. “The only way this works is in a cohesive way. Selling 40 acres here and 30 acres there, it would create a hodge-podge. It would look like south Phoenix.’’

The dairymen’s portion of Hawes Crossing covers 535 acres. More than 900 acres would be annexed into Mesa as a package with the zoning changes. Since almost all of that is county land, Mesa’s acquisition would enable home developers to built houses on lots less than the acre required by the county’s zoning.

Though they are preparing for their future by relocating, Boyle and the other dairy farmers are nostalgic about leaving east Mesa after so many years of living and working there.

“My family has been in Arizona since the 1880s and we’ve been in the Phoenix area since the 1930s. There’s a lot of the city we feel connected to,’’ Boyle said.

His grandfather, Bill Boyle, owned a dairy farm in south Phoenix and eventually became the principal of Tempe High School and the first principal of McClintock High School.

His father, Jim Boyle Sr., managed the former Roeloffs dairy near Mountain View High School, which gave birth at one time to an anachronistic nickname, “Mountain Pew.’’

“I want to be able to come back in 10 years with my kids and point out, this is where you grew up and look what’s here now,’’ Boyle said. “We leave behind a vibrant community.’’

There seems to be little doubt that Hawes Crossing would be enticing to developers and that land sales would be lucrative for the present owners.

Jim Perry, deputy commissioner of the Arizona Land Department, said his department was glad to join planning the Hawes Crossing project when zoning attorney Jordan Rose made the offer.

“It’s definitely a significant increase in value’’ if the proposal is approved, Perry said. “We were very happy to be part of it.’’

Because the state land access to the Loop 202 and is near the airport, “this a nice uplift in our land’s value,’’ he said, adding that he expects the land will be sold for a series of major projects over several years if the rezoning case wins approval.

Perry said K-12 schools throughout the state are designated as beneficiaries of 83 percent of state land, with other beneficiaries including public universities.

Arizona’s Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund recently achieved a record value of $6.2 billion, deputy state treasurer Mark Swenson said.

The state land was given to Arizona at statehood by the federal government and is divvied up among 13 beneficiaries, with schools historically benefiting from 93 percent of sales.

The fund paid out a record of $342 million in school funding during the 2020 fiscal year.

Proceeds from auctions have ranged from as little as $17,000 to $83 million for 134 acres along the Loop 101 in Scottsdale for Nationwide Insurance.

“We’re hoping for a great result for our beneficiaries,’’ Perry said.

Meanwhile, existing homeowners near the sprawling Hawes Landing area welcome the prospect of council approval.

After years of putting up with the stench of manure, scores of homeowners showed up at a city hearing last fall with bright yellow shirts that simply stated, “Yes to Hawes Crossing.”

By Jim Walsh

Tribune Staff Writer

 

Urban sprawl may level Jim Boyle’s bucolic East Mesa dairy farm and force him to move his home and operation to Casa Grande, but he’s okay with that.

Despite the more than 40 years his family has tended his two farms near Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, Boyle and four other neighboring dairy families aren’t afraid of the coming upheaval in their lives.

Indeed,, they’ve been looking forward to it.

The upheaval will come if  the Hawes Crossing proposal – a large controversial zoning case with astronomically high financial stakes – gets Mesa City Council approval later this month.

The measure to rezone hundreds of acres in the area is to be introduced tomorrow, Feb. 10, with a final council vote slated Feb. 24.

If Council okays the rezoning, Boyle and four neighboring dairy farmers will be following the path taken by other agricultural enterprises in the East Valley over the past few decades: moving to more suitable locations elsewhere.

The Arizona Land Department also is hoping for zoning approval, but for a somewhat different reason.

Because 595 acres of undeveloped state land in the 1,100-acre proposal is along the Loop 202 and near the airport, it is expected to yield a bonanza for Arizona at auction.

A state Land Department official estimated the property – earmarked for major commercial development as well as large residential projects – could raise tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions, for public schools.

Boyle knew it was inevitable that he and his fellow dairymen would join an inexorable exodus from an area where they made their livelihood for decades.

Dairy farms have become increasingly rare in the East Valley.

Statistics provided by the United Dairymen of Arizona, a farm cooperative, show that the dairies have been moving either south to Pinal County or west to Buckeye and Gila Bend.

The United Dairymen list four co-op members in Mesa, two in Chandler and Gilbert, one in Queen Creek, 18 in Pinal County, 6 in Litchfield Park, Tolleson and Tonopah and 20 in Buckeye and Gila Bend.

“People are moving out of the way from urban sprawl,’’ said Ed Martin, director of the University of Arizona’s extension service in Mesa.

“These folks are business savvy,’’ he said. “You are always looking 10 years down the road.’’

Boyle’s flight from East Mesa, along with that of four other dairy families, depends on Mesa City Council’s approval of  zoning changes required to make Hawes Crossing possible.

The plan’s controversial part is the mixed-use development’s location – about two miles from the airport, one of Mesa’s primary economic development engines.

Councilman Kevin Thompson and economic development advocates oppose Hawes Crossing because they fear the impact of residential encroachment on the airport.

They say homeowners will become angry about the inevitable noise from air traffic, eventually demanding restrictions on flights even though they will be required to sign a document when they buy their house that acknowledges the noise is likely.

Airport officials have not opposed Hawes Crossing because it falls in Airport Overflight Area III – just like much of East Mesa – where residential housing is considered compatible.

But they have warned the council that noise complaints are likely, especially when new houses turn over to their second or third owner.

Mesa would require a series of notifications about the homes’ close proximity to the airport if the rezoning and annexation are approved. Even directional signs with pictures of airplanes are part of the plan.

Thompson has been a part of a vocal minority of one, however; no other council members have spoken out against the proposal at a series of study sessions.

“We saw the writing on the wall in the 90s,’’ Boyle said, remarking, “you can flip an alfalfa field into a development’’ with relative ease.

“Developers have a tendency to skip over the dairies,’’ he said, because of the time and costs required for them to move equipment, cows and farm families’ homes to another location.

Boyle was well aware that he needed to find a new location eventually. He bought a farm in Casa Grande to grow feed for his cows.

In the end, Boyle ended up with 3,500 head of cows at his Casa Grande dairy and 2,500 in Mesa. Recently, he moved virtually all his Mesa dairy cows to Casa Grande.

Because his land is on a county island near Elliot and Hawes Road and zoned for one house per acre, Boyle knew his options for selling the property were limited.

The neighboring dairy families were in the same predicament, so they banded together and invested in the planning of Hawes Crossing.

The move was necessary, Boyle said, because all the farms were built in the late 1970s and are aging. Boyle’s father bought the land in 1978 and started the dairy farm.

After 40 years, a major capital improvement is required. The situation is not surprising, with dairy farms typically needing to upgrade equipment every 30 years or so, he said.

It makes more sense, Boyle said, to spend money at a facility in a location more suitable for farming, where he can dispose of his manure easier and buy feed for his cows.

“We have to replace $200,000 in equipment right away. I can’t justify that now with the planning matter up in the air,’’ Boyle said.

Boyle closed down his antiquated milk house and started trucking his cows down to Casa Grande when they were old enough and big enough to produce milk.

“We need to do something with these cows really soon,’’ Boyle told the Mesa Planning and Zoning Board in October shortly before it voted to recommend approval of Hawes Crossing on a 3-2 vote.

Boyle said the other farmers have exit plans too, but that with all the equipment and cows involved, a move likely will take several months.

Boyle gets irritated when some people look at the dairy farmers’ proposal as a get-rich-quick scheme.

“I don’t want to make a quick buck off this thing,’’ he said.

Instead, he looks at it as not only his livelihood but his legacy.

“We thought we would do this in a big piece,’’ Boyle said. “The only way this works is in a cohesive way. Selling 40 acres here and 30 acres there, it would create a hodge-podge. It would look like south Phoenix.’’

The dairymen’s portion of Hawes Crossing covers 535 acres. More than 900 acres would be annexed into Mesa as a package with the zoning changes. Since almost all of that is county land, Mesa’s acquisition would enable home developers to built houses on lots less than the acre required by the county’s zoning.

Though they are preparing for their future by relocating, Boyle and the other dairy farmers are nostalgic about leaving east Mesa after so many years of living and working there.

“My family has been in Arizona since the 1880s and we’ve been in the Phoenix area since the 1930s. There’s a lot of the city we feel connected to,’’ Boyle said.

His grandfather, Bill Boyle, owned a dairy farm in south Phoenix and eventually became the principal of Tempe High School and the first principal of McClintock High School.

His father, Jim Boyle Sr., managed the former Roeloffs dairy near Mountain View High School, which gave birth at one time to an anachronistic nickname, “Mountain Pew.’’

“I want to be able to come back in 10 years with my kids and point out, this is where you grew up and look what’s here now,’’ Boyle said. “We leave behind a vibrant community.’’

There seems to be little doubt that Hawes Crossing would be enticing to developers and that land sales would be lucrative for the present owners.

Jim Perry, deputy commissioner of the Arizona Land Department, said his department was glad to join planning the Hawes Crossing project when zoning attorney Jordan Rose made the offer.

“It’s definitely a significant increase in value’’ if the proposal is approved, Perry said. “We were very happy to be part of it.’’

Because the state land access to the Loop 202 and is near the airport, “this a nice uplift in our land’s value,’’ he said, adding that he expects the land will be sold for a series of major projects over several years if the rezoning case wins approval.

Perry said K-12 schools throughout the state are designated as beneficiaries of 83 percent of state land, with other beneficiaries including public universities.

Arizona’s Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund recently achieved a record value of $6.2 billion, deputy state treasurer Mark Swenson said.

The state land was given to Arizona at statehood by the federal government and is divvied up among 13 beneficiaries, with schools historically benefiting from 93 percent of sales.

The fund paid out a record of $342 million in school funding during the 2020 fiscal year.

Proceeds from auctions have ranged from as little as $17,000 to $83 million for 134 acres along the Loop 101 in Scottsdale for Nationwide Insurance.

“We’re hoping for a great result for our beneficiaries,’’ Perry said.

Meanwhile, existing homeowners near the sprawling Hawes Landing area welcome the prospect of council approval.

After years of putting up with the stench of manure, scores of homeowners showed up at a city hearing last fall with bright yellow shirts that simply stated, “Yes to Hawes Crossing.”

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