CAREFREE – In the wake of the Town of Carefree filing a lawsuit against its own residents to claim private property, a concerned citizens group announced plans to head to the ballot to prevent the Town from using brute force to seize the land and build a 300,000-gallon water tank just yards from homes.
Save Our Desert, a residents-led campaign effort, last week filed the Desert And Open Space Protection Act, a measure meant to protect private property rights, preserve Carefree’s pristine desert open spaces and limit the power of government. Should it be passed by Carefree voters, the Act would prevent the Town from using eminent domain for the purposes of developing designated open spaces and private property. It also would render as null and void the Town’s effort to exercise eminent domain to seize land for use as the site of a massive 300,000-gallon industrial water tank.
“When a Town sues its own residents to seize land, you have to take drastic action to stop the bullies,” said Maureen Benedetto, the chairperson of Save our Desert. “The Desert And Open Space Protection Act will make sure Mayor (Les) Peterson and his politician and developer friends get the message: we don’t want the desert open spaces that make Carefree so beautiful stolen from property owners by brute force and permanently destroyed.”
The Town of Carefree has been eyeing The Boulders acreage since at least January 2019, according to a release issued by Save Our Desert. The 0.765 acre plot – owned by the Boulders Homeowners Association and its members – sits adjacent to Tom Darlington Drive, yards from homes on Sage Brush Lane. The town’s hired appraisers value the desert open space at $20,000 – a paltry sum in the eyes of residents, according to Save Our Desert.
“First Mayor Peterson tried to pull off a secret backroom deal to grab this land,” said Benedetto. “When he was outed and the deal fell apart, the Town and the Council switched gears. Now they’re using the power of government to steal the land in broad daylight.”
The Act does not close off eminent domain actions entirely, according to its authors. Rather, it protects residents and property owners from government entities taking their land against their will while permitting the Town to acquire such land with the approval of the Town Council and Carefree voters.
“What we need here is transparency and open government – or the exact opposite of what we’ve seen the Town do over the past two years,” said John Mattes, a concerned resident of Carefree. “By giving voters a voice and requiring a two-thirds vote of Council on eminent domain land grabs, we can protect private property, protect freedom and protect Carefree’s quality of life and property values.”