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Observations on a Vision for Wickenburg – Part 2

Part 1 of this article concluded on the rather bleak observation that the factors which make Wickenburg a “destination location” are comprised of weak and transient contributors to the economic health and future of our town. It also noted the threat to our scenic habitat and an absence of a community vision of the future.

Without a vision you have nothing to assess or debate. It means that you have nothing that can inspire people to work toward a common end because no one can see the big picture. Without that vision, what you are left with is a form of muddled political “body language” that reveals — but only after the fact – what the holders of power intend to do, or to allow others to do on their behalf. That puts everyone in the position of second guessing and even misinterpreting the actions and intentions of elected and appointed officials, to say nothing of developers.

This second installment begins to lay out a template of sorts for a vision of Wickenburg’s future and growth. It can be made actionable (concrete, measurable and achievable) only if people become engaged. You are welcome to disagree with any or all of the proposals; but if you do, then speak up — express your vision!

Factors That Contribute to Healthy Growth

Jobs: We have all seen the weathered sign along U.S. 60 south of town that encourages potential businesses to consider relocating to Wickenburg. Can you name the last business that was actually recruited to move here? If Wickenburg intends to generate healthy and sustainable growth, it must have more young families that have jobs inside the borders of our community and who are willing to make a “life investment”. Without local jobs we face the alternative of creating our own ugly version of other metro-Phoenix bedroom communities; where U.S. 60 is clogged with Wickenburg commuters who hate their two-plus hour drive to and from work. Our town needs to be more than a place to sleep and park your car overnight.

A healthier vision is to actively and continually attract small and mid-sized businesses that add ten — or even one hundred — jobs at a time to the local workforce. The more knowledge-based jobs there are, the more Wickenburg will benefit. Similarly, the “greener” these businesses are, the more likely we will be to preserve the clean air and scenic habitat that we enjoy. We don’t need business (industry) that pumps unsustainable volumes of water from the ground and leaves a degraded environment in its wake.

Housing Density: Achieving a satisfactory balance between high and low density housing developments (and a healthy balance between work force and retired populations) are two of the most contentious issues that Wickenburg residents will face in the next few years, but they must be dealt with. It will be impossible to attract a growing work force if families cannot afford to live here. Similarly, we cannot attract people who seek open space and solitude if we permit developers to flood the area with postage stamp lots in congested subdivisions or that may destroy or cut off access to open spaces.

Housing Supply: Dan Schwimmer reported in his article (Housing Panic Comes to Wickenburg!) there were 351 homes for sale in the Wickenburg market at the end of October, 2007. Although this is orders of magnitude smaller than metro-Phoenix (where there are more than 55,000 houses for sale) we are still affected by the same market forces. A friend in the real estate business told me that Wickenburg sells an average of 150 new and resale homes per year; so the current inventory represents roughly a twenty-eight month supply. Unmanaged growth in inventory (new construction) could serve to depress current home values in the community. I am distrustful that local developers are willing to exercise self restraint and refrain from enlarging our already bloated supply of housing.

Instead, Wickenburg needs a clearly articulated vision for future housing that will provide a well planned and balanced supply of high and low density home sites. I believe that prudent regulation of building permits is one of the keys to managing this issue and it will likely require coordination with Maricopa and Yavapai counties – where construction could occur outside of current town limits. It is equally vital that all future development preserve public access to open spaces — and particularly trails.

Education: Every graduating High School student in Wickenburg, Aguila, Congress and Morristown has to leave the area if they aspire to continue their education. Wickenburg should seize on this need and work with Maricopa County to develop a Junior College campus in town. This is an investment that will provide enormous and lasting value to the community — including quality, permanent jobs. We have enough land south of town along Vulture Mine Road and west along U.S. 60 to provide space for a campus – unless we wait until it has been converted into subdivisions. It will take years to achieve a goal such as this and it will not happen without forward thinking and the commitment of town leaders.

Retail Leakage: If you want to prevent the loss of retail revenue and sales tax in Wickenburg, then you have to provide better shopping options, including retail diversity, inside Wickenburg’s town limits. It’s really no more complicated than that. If you cannot purchase an item in Wickenburg that you need, then you will go somewhere else to obtain it. If the item you seek is far more expensive in town than elsewhere, then you will purchase it at a store outside of Wickenburg where it is less costly. That is pretty simple consumer economics. I do not subscribe to the notion of paying more or waiting longer for a product or service simply to satisfy a merchant who is indifferent to my needs.

As I stated in Part 1 of this article, shopping alternatives will move progressively closer to Wickenburg as Peoria, Surprise and Buckeye push their borders in our direction. Rather than sit on the sidelines and watch “retail leakage” increase, why not aggressively attract some of these businesses to open within the town limits of Wickenburg? This may border on heresy, but I would challenge you to name one local business that would be forced to close if a “dreaded” Wal-Mart opened inside the current (or future) town limits of Wickenburg. And what if a “Best Buy,” “Dillard’s,” “Michaels” or “Borders Books” were to open here? What are the benefits?

  • More in-town jobs.
  • Increased property and sales tax revenue.
  • Shopping revenue and sales tax from Congress, Yarnell, Peeples Valley, Aguila and Morristown shoppers that presently flows toward metro-Phoenix or Prescott. Even residents as far away as Wenden and Salome would benefit from expanded shopping availability in Wickenburg.
  • The creation of other ancillary businesses that will be attracted to these new year-round shopping destinations.

What are the risks?

I am sorely tempted to say “none,” but the truth is probably better served by saying that some Wickenburg businesses will have to become more competitive in their pricing, product availability and services.

If Wickenburg can demonstrate a coherent growth plan to commercial developers, we stand a good chance of attracting more retail options than presently exist in town. Otherwise, these businesses will locate outside our town limits where they see greater opportunity and less risk. That makes Wickenburg the looser.

Part 3 of this article will offer vision statement proposals dealing with the downtown area of Wickenburg. Part 4 will address conservation and preservation issues, critical infrastructure and non-retail business diversity. The more I think about the need for a clear vision, the more issues and needs emerge. Your suggestions and criticisms are most welcome!

Last 5 posts by Allan Hall

7 comments to Observations on a Vision for Wickenburg – Part 2

  • Daryl

    Allan,

    I see that Zip Realty figure repeated here. When I visited the site, I found that many of the listings were for raw land, lots and acreage, though they were deemed “homes” by Zip. Of the first group of 15 MLS listings, 7 were land without buildings, and there was at least one motel. So I don’t believe the Wickenburg housing market is as dire as one would surmise looking at Zip’s raw figures.

    “If Wickenburg intends to generate healthy and sustainable growth, it must have more young families that have jobs inside the borders of our community and who are willing to make a “life investment”.”

    Please expand on this statement. What about communities like Santa Barbara, where young families have been generally priced out since the early 1970’s? It’s grown about 50% in the ensuing years. How about Scottsdale? Are retirement communities not viable? As the baby boom retires, won’t retirement communities be booming with a large supply of retirees at least through 2023, when the last of the boomers turn 60? That’s where I think Wickenburg will get many of its new citizens as it reaches a pop of 25k+ by 2025. Perhaps the traffic by workers will be coming TO Wickenburg and going AWAY to homes in Surprise and Buckeye.

    Sincerely,
    Daryl

  • I’m not sure what kind of expansion you expect on Allan’s statement regarding young families and job’s within towns. Clearly someone who has a family and a job and a home in the same town has a lot invested in the community and will be interested in good growth.

    I don’t think it’s really fair to compare tiny Wickenburg to Santa Barbara of Scottsale.

    Sadly, Wickenburg is already on a path to attract mostly retirees. I agree with Allan that the future of Wickenburg as a viable and lively community rests with its ability to attract younger residents and the jobs they need to survive — and thrive — here.

  • Daryl

    I’m just wondering what’s so bad about being an attractive spot for retirees.

    About 100 years ago, Riverside, California was much like Wickenburg – a spot for affluent snowbirds 50 miles from a major city. Look at it now, after a century of sustained “growth” for younger families.

    In regards to SB and Scottsdale, they are a couple of ciies that have been too expensive for young families for a minimum of 25 years and yet appear to be viable communities.

    Why does Wickenburg being attractive to retirees make Maria sad? I’m just trying to understand.

    Thanks,
    Daryl

  • Allan Hall

    Daryl,

    Regarding your statement about Santa Barbara, this is a city with a population and per capita income which far exceeds that of Wickenburg. A few years ago the Palo Alto city government had to begin offering rent subsidies to teachers so they could afford to live near schools. That is not a healthy situation.

    Regarding your comment about the Zip Realty statistics – whether a lot is empty or has a house, it is still unsold inventory. If you want to subtract the motel from the listing, please do so. Changing the number from 351 to 350 still equates to a twenty-eight month inventory.

    The opening section of the article invites readers to contribute their vision for the future of Wickenburg. I also said that we need to find a “balance” between working families and retired residents. You have expressed a few ideas that could be turned into vision statements and it would be a great contribution to the web site if you could develop these into an article describing your vision!

  • Allan Hall

    A Footnote Commentary to the article:

    Based upon the front page article in the Wickenburg Sun today (Wittmann says ‘no’ to Surprise), it would appear that Circle City, Wittmann and Morristown seek to preserve their identity as much as some people in Wickenburg. They have initiated discussions with the Wickenburg Town Council seeking annexation by Wickenburg!
    Allan

  • Daryl

    Allan,

    Maybe it would just be easier to talk on the phone, I’m in the book, and open to calls, but anyway…

    Have you been to the Zip site? I don’t see how you can equate open lots, land and acreages with HOMES, new or resale. BTW, Zip is up to 354 as of yesterday. It would seem to me, however, that including open land would leave us open to saying logically that there’s at
    least a 100 YEAR inventory since Wickenburg is over a century old and we still have un- and under-developed land. I also note your friend said there were about 150 new and resale HOMES sold in the area each year.

    I don’t understand the reference to Palo Alto in regards to Santa Barbara. Aren’t these cities hundreds of miles apart? And the teacher/public servant salary question is another issue all its own, I believe.

    Santa Barbara and Wickenburg seem comparable to me as they both attract the better-off retiree, SB just gets the best-off.

    My vision for Wickenburg? That it changes slowly, protects its heritage, and doesn’t become a supply depot for the Canadian mining interests currently investigating open-pit copper mining east of Constellation Road and north of Buckhorn road.

    I hope the Town is able to annex to the south and hold off Buckeye and Surprise.

    I don’t have a negative view of retirees (my own father retired when I was 12 so maybe my view is biased?) and think the average retiree is changing, anyway. I know folks are way more active in the post-employment years than in the past, for instance. As we are able to stay healthy longer, we play longer, and stay involved longer.

    That’s all for now!
    Daryl

  • Pamela Tait

    We recently retired on the sale of our home in north Scottsdale, and we had purchased a beautiful 10 acre piece of property just north of the Wickenburg town limits. To us the attraction of Wickenburg is that it is a nice town with some amenities that is within a not-so-long drive into the big towns for major shopping. We also love the area that Wickenburg is in. We are considering building on our property there, but we haven’t quite made the commitment yet.

    My vision of the future of Wickenburg has a question mark on it right now. I see its potential as being fairly unlimited due to it’s privacy from the Phoenix metro area while at the same time being pretty close to a major city.

    When we lived in Scottsdale, we had to drive a minimum of 7 miles to get to the closest grocery store from our house. That wasn’t so bad when there were not that many people in the area, but now that’s a 20 minute drive each way.

    I would hate to see what happened to the north Scottsdale area happen to the Town of Wickenburg. Responsible planning and development is crucial. One thing that the Wickenburg area has that is SO attractive is the amount of acreage available. The water situation is also great, especially for livestock and equestrian use. It’s a breath of fresh air northwest of the valley.

    That is the vision I see of Wickenburg. But it will take some good people in the right places to be able to accomplish that. I don’t see the current housing situation around the country being as bad for the people in Wickenburg as elsewhere since the area itself is so attractive.

    Right now we are in a holding pattern while we make up our minds about building there. I see several other people around us there doing the same thing. Once everyone stops holding their breath about the real estate market and lets it out, I think the market should right itself. That is, of course, unless some bozo decides to screw it up again.

    Pam