Many residents of the Lehi community in northwest Mesa cherish an agriculture-based lifestyle within an easy drive from more urban areas.
“It’s a place where you can still work in the city, but you can come back and then you can enjoy a country lifestyle,” Lehi Community Improvement Association President Marilyn Crosby said.
“In Lehi, we actually embrace not having sidewalks and not having more streetlights. We like beautiful night skies,” she continued. “Kids have chores, and they’re out feeding the animals first thing in the morning before they have breakfast.
“It’s a beautiful, wonderful community.”
Crosby and others feel that a 222-unit apartment complex proposed for the Crismon Farm Homestead site at McDowell Road and the Loop 202 represents an unjust intrusion of urban life on their quiet community.
They’ve been fighting plans for the Homestead at Lehi project for two years, and even notched a success in 2021 when the Planning and Zoning Board denied the project.
But this summer a modified version of the project returned to city planners, and at a study session last week, Homestead at Lehi Crossing appeared to have council’s support.
The ordinance approving the Homestead at Lehi rezoning will be introduced this week and is scheduled for a public hearing Feb. 13.
City staff are in support, as well as the Planning and Zoning Board.
But the strongest sign the developers would finally prevail and get the three-story apartment built in Mesa’s historic heartland was the support of Councilman Mark Freeman, who represents Lehi.
He told his colleagues he had reservations about the project earlier, but design changes and conditions placed on the developer won his support for now.
“Overall, this development can be an asset to the area,” Freeman said. “We’ve got a really good development agreement.”
Freeman noted that he gets complaints about ATV traffic and graffiti in the area now.
While 1-acre residential lots would be “ideal,” he doesn’t think private developers would elect to put in country-style horse properties on the site any time soon.
Besides, the alternatives to the apartment would likely be less-than-inspiring, like an RV storage, Freeman said, and wouldn’t come with some of the community benefits of the apartments.
The benefits include adding another housing option in the area, improvements to the canal trail system promised by the developer and public trailhead parking on land donated by the owner.
Lehi has a long history of defending its rural character.
The community successfully waged a successful campaign to prevent a Lindsey Road exit off the 202, and the Lehi Community Association closely monitors new development applications to the city.
Crosby said that Lehi residents opposed to the project don’t have a problem with developing the Crismon Homestead; she just thinks it should match the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I still remain hopeful that there could be something other than this proposal that has been put forward,” she said. “I mean, we would very much embrace the opportunity to work for something that is less density.”
In comments after the study session, Crosby rejected the idea that the landowner can’t find anything else to do with the property. She believes single-family homes could be built if the landowner had the will.
While over 150 people have signed a petition against Homestead at Lehi, some Lehi residents have offered support for the project.
A handful of residents who commented during the planning and zoning hearing this summer echoed Freeman’s concerns about the land remaining a dirt lot, saying it attracts illegal camping and other nuisances.
One resident described the site as an “eyesore” and thought a landscaped apartment building would be preferable to the vacant lot.
Freeman, who said he is related to the Crismons who once lived on the site, also defended his support of Homestead at Lehi by noting that the construction of the 202 drastically altered the character of the place.
He said it has “morphed into an island” surrounded by the highway to the north and canals to the south.
A fire in 2007 destroyed the historic structures on the site.
Freeman also signaled that the Homestead was heading for approval when he said, “I personally like roundabouts.”
Construction of a roundabout on McDowell Road at the 202 ramp to handle the additional traffic from the project is a major point of contention for residents.
The roundabout was the issue that derailed the project in 2021, and it continues to be a sore point for residents.
Residents then argued that the roundabout would be a safety hazard for the many users of horse trailers in the area. If a trailer hit a curb, it would injure the horses, or the mixture of trailers and smaller cars could lead to accidents.
In response, developers have planned a “Wickenburg roundabout,” or a roundabout with rounded curbs that can be driven over and are more horse-trailer friendly.
ADOT and Mesa traffic engineers support the installation of a roundabout, and the change to a more trailer-friendly design won over the planning and zoning board this summer.
Crosby and other residents aren’t convinced the new roundabout will be safe.
She says members of the Lehi Community Association reached out to people in Wickenburg, and horse owners there said they don’t like the roundabouts.
“Trailers and roundabouts don’t mix,” she said.
While winds in city hall are favoring approval of Homestead at Lehi, the project will likely find plenty of opposition at the hearing, but protecting the lifestyle is in the community’s DNA.
In Lehi, “it’s normal for people to have owls flying overhead and coyotes that walk through the neighborhood and javelina, and it’s very much a country feel, which seems a bit odd because Mesa is a large city,” Crosby said.
“It’s that way because we’ve cared about it, and we have preserved our culture.”