Homeowners fume over Ocotillo Road widening

Terri and Eric Naddy stand to lose a substantial portion of their property as Maricopa County and the Town of Gilbert widen E. Ocotillo Road between S. Val Vista Drive and S. Greenfield Road. (David Minton/Tribune Staff Photographer)

Eric and Terri Naddy enjoy a rural lifestyle on nearly 2.5 acres, raising 60 quails, chickens, three dogs and two desert tortoises.

They planned on putting in a barn and an above-ground pool to farm fish.

But earlier this month, the couple learned their way of life may soon be gone as Gilbert moves forward with taking part of their land and that of 45 of their neighbors in southeast Gilbert for a road-widening project. Most of the other properties in the area are 1 acre in size and some homeowners have horses.

Completing the bridge would offer Queen Creek motorists an additional east-west route across the Southeast Valley.

Gilbert Town Council in January unanimously approved eminent domain proceedings on the properties bordering Ocotillo Road on the north and south sides from Greenfield to Val Vista roads. Nine of the properties are in Gilbert’s jurisdiction and 37, including the Naddys’ land, are under the jurisdiction of Maricopa County.

None of the property owners were notified of the town’s intentions until after Council’s vote.

The project, already included in the Town’s Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal years 2022-31, calls for widening two-lane Ocotillo into four traffic lanes with a center turn lane, bike lanes, sidewalks and streetlights. The Town set aside $2.9 million to buy the properties.

Although Ocotillo Road currently dead ends at Greenfield and Higley roads, Gilbert plans to rectify that with a 545-foot-long bridge with four travel lanes that will improve emergency response to some neighborhoods. The connected roadway would also provide a straight east-west travel corridor between Queen Creek and Chandler.

Ocotillo currently is separated by a number of natural barriers, such as the Queen Creek Canal, East Maricopa Floodway and a Roosevelt Water Conservation District canal.

The overall budget for the project was $67 million with the construction portion at $54 million, according to the Town. Construction was anticipated to begin in the fall/winter of 2023.

The Town also plans to widen Ocotillo Road from Greenfield to Val Vista roads – a plan opposed by homeowners who will lose portions of their land for the project. If the owners refuse to sell at the assessed value, eminent domain will be used.

According to the Town, the widening of the roadway is a critical piece of infrastructure to provide the connection in the southern part of Gilbert and has been identified in past general plans and transportation master plans. The project is approaching 60% design, with anticipated design completion occurring later this year.

The town has pared down the aesthetic design for the planned Ocotillo Bridge across Gilbert Regional Park to two from four and is again asking the public for its input.

Residents can comment until June 14 on the two options – the Palo Verde concept and a new design Desert Falls, which incorporates the best of the elements from three previous renderings.

Some 3,490 people in a survey weighed in on the original four concepts, which were designed around a desert oasis theme that resulted from public outreach.

Rich Robertson, a county resident who lives on Ocotillo Road, told the Gibert Town Council last month that officials are taking more land than originally proposed.

“The road expansion is not new to us,” Robertson said. “I knew it when we bought our house nearly 20 years ago that this was planned as a minor arterial. I saw the Gilbert transportation plan at that time, laid it out. The Ocotillo Bridge was part of that plan nearly 20 years ago.

“The easement on my property was platted for that highway in 1985 so it’s not a surprise. But what was a surprise was the additional 10 feet,” he continued. “In the intervening 40 years, if you will, since my easement was platted Maricopa County’s issued building permits for pools and walls and out-buildings and houses. Gilbert and the county have platted subdivisions based on that 55 feet and now it’s changed.

“And I think that 10 feet is where most of the damage will be. That’s where most of the expense for Gilbert taxpayers going to come from in taking out those walls, those out-buildings, those swimming pools that were built with the expectation of 55 feet.”

Ellen West said the stakes already placed in her backyard, which backs up to Ocotillo, will reduce its size by half and result in “having a wall about 15 feet from my back door.”

Her husband, Ray West, said the couple purchased their property on 154th Street over 20 years ago to escape the city and “now the city has moved into us.”

He said when he purchased his property the address originally was in Chandler but Gilbert later took it over and that the Town also took 2,200 square feet, an easement the couple owned east of their home, from them without compensation for a road.

Eric Naddy said the proposed five lanes, sidewalks and horse trail total 89 feet and asked why the Town wanted 130 feet.

“Decoration, landscaping?” he said. “We don’t want it.”

The irony, he said, is that the Town wants to put in a horse trail but will be taking land away from people who own horses in order to do so.

“We are not going to take horses down a five-lane road,” Naddy said. “It’s a bad idea.”

As it stands, the Naddys will lose 4,800 square feet of land – or 12 feet from their block wall facing Ocotillo Road for 400 feet, said Eric Naddy.

They also will lose a mature tree and a shed her mother put in, said Terri Naddy, who purchased the property with her mom, Susan, in 1997, when the closest grocery store was 9 miles away and people had to drive past at least two dairy farms to reach the home.

“I am not one to lay down and roll over and play dead,” said Terri Naddy upon learning of the Town’s plans. “We bought in a rural community and want to keep it that way.”