There’s Hope for Wickenburg

Prop 421 does not pass. And life goes on.

Proposition 421 was on this year’s ballot in Wickenburg. It was strongly supported by a number of the town’s “heavy hitters,” including the mayor (who didn’t identify himself as mayor on promotional material), newspaper publisher, chamber of commerce, and a hodgepodge of the town’s politicians. Their yellow “Vote Yes” signs were all over town. And mysteriously, for a few weeks, all the “Vote No” signs disappeared on a nightly basis. As a result, the Prop 421 supporters looked strong and gave the illusion that their side of the argument was right. I suspected that the majority of Wickenburg voters would not look deeply into the issue and would vote based on the number of signs they saw. In that case, Prop 421 would pass.

If you’re wondering what Prop 421 is (or was), it basically gave a developer the right to build high-density housing in an area that wasn’t zoned for it. The houses/condos would be “clustered” together in an area suitable for building and the unsuitable areas would be left as open land, like a park. Of course, those unsuitable areas were mostly in a wash, so building there wasn’t possible and any parklike features that were added — bike paths, benches, lighting, etc. — could be washed away in a flood. The carrot that was being dangled (to borrow the appropriate phrase from a friend of mine) was an additional nine holes added to the Country Club’s nine-hole golf course.

Prop 421’s supporters included:
1) Anyone who stood to make money on the additional housing. Think about it a bit and you might be able to figure out who (other than the developer) that might be, especially when you consider how much “under-the-table”‘ dealings go on in a small town.
2) Country club residents whose land did not border the land to be developed. These people were hypnotized by the artist’s renderings provided by the developer and saw themselves living on a Scottsdale-like development.
3) Business owners who think that adding more homes means adding more potential customers.

The sad part of all this is that the kinds of homes they were proposing would not be the kinds of homes occupied year-round by people who support Wickenburg’s economy. I’m talking about the people who live and work here, who run businesses, shop locally, and have a stake in the community. Instead, these condos (like most other condos/apartments in town) would appeal to the same seasonal residents that flood the town every winter for four months out of the year. These are the same people who make weekly trips to the Wal-Mart store in Surprise and, while they’re down there, buy gas, groceries, and anything else they need to make themselves more comfortable in their winter homes. In April, they disappear, leaving Wickenburg a virtual ghost town for the summer months. Some businesses that started up in the autumn, hoping to bring in enough revenue to get them through the summer months, dry up and blow away by July.

My views on the seasonal economy of Wickenburg are stated in many places, so I won’t go into it any further here.

Prop 421’s opposition included:
1) The people who live in the Country Club area whose views would be spoiled by the “cluster housing” planned for their backyards.
2) The people who realized that additional “affordable housing” in a town that’s growth is already almost out of control would only bring their own property values down. I admit that I’m one of these people. I think Wickenburg has enough housing, evidenced by the number of “for sale” signs in front of homes all over town.
3) The people who like Wickenburg the way it is and don’t want to see a huge influx of residents, all at once. That’s me, too. I’ve lived in a tightly packed community most of my life and it isn’t something I want ever again. That’s why I moved to Wickenburg.

“You can’t stop progress,” is something I heard at a Bypass meeting a long time ago. That might be true, but I think you can slow it down. Wickenburg is having growing pains; it might be best to slow the residential growth until the commercial growth catches up.

Of course, the town can’t be too happy about Prop 421’s failure. They were looking forward to the impact fees and additional property taxes from the new homes. But perhaps the town’s governing body and management can now get down to what they really need to do: help encourage business growth in Wickenburg. It’ll take some work, but isn’t that what they’re supposed to be doing?

Wickenburg has a nice little industrial park near the airport with a few businesses based there. How about getting a few more of those businesses in there? The kind of business a man (or woman) can build a career at, and can earn enough money to support a family. Think of all the year-round residents Wickenburg could attract if it had some good employers in town! The Meadows and Remuda Ranch make up a huge part of the town’s year-round economy, providing jobs for many people. But why can’t there be other employers like them? Why should jobs be limited to low-paying retail jobs and seasonal positions that can’t provide a year-round income? Why can’t Wickenburg attract more employers that offer professional jobs and careers? Why isn’t the town’s government doing something to get quality businesses in here? Why do they insist on trying to build revenues by adding homes and low-class businesses (like the newest discount store under construction on 93) that pay low-income wages? The town wouldn’t need so much cheap housing if it had more better-paying jobs.

I’m doing my part. Last month, I began expanding wickenburg-az.com to provide more coverage of local businesses, in an attempt to get people to come to and shop in Wickenburg. The site gets about 1,000 page hits a day, which really isn’t much, but it’s something. My recent article about Buckshot Babe’s got a ton of positive responses via e-mail from Wickenburg residents and visitors, so I must be on the right track.

Yesterday, I met with a new organization called Women Entrepreneurs (WE). These women, who mostly run home-based businesses, are networking to support each other and provide low-cost marketing opportunities. There was a lot of Chamber-bashing at the meeting yesterday (which isn’t anything new in this town) and plenty of good ideas for getting the word out about our businesses. I’m going to help these folks any way I can because they’re the people that keep Wickenburg alive — the people who live here year-round and keep the dollars flowing in town.

But when is the town’s government going to see it that way?

4 thoughts on “There’s Hope for Wickenburg

  1. Hi! I’ve read a couple of your articles and I must say, I’m a bit troubled by your outlook on Wickenburg. You see, I spent about 6 years of my childhood (attending MacLennan Elementary) there and have some very fond memories of the place, not the least of which includes hiking up to the top of Vulture Peak and camping out up there with my dad. Anyway, now that I’m an adult in my thirties, my family and I have decided to move to AZ and Wickenburg is in the top 3 of the places we desire most in the great state. One of the reasons is because as Kansas Citians, we live in a crowded, hustle & bustle city life and we are frankly, tired of it. Add to that, the fact that my wife and I really want to live around desert mountains and you can see why Arizona is our destination of choice. Can I ask you…is Wickenburg really as bad as you say it is? Or do you believe that a guy like me could come live out there and enjoy a quieter, more simple life in a smaller, but loveable (and liveable) town? Thanks for any input you can give me.

  2. Wickenburg is not the town you lived in years ago. Even during the 10 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen massive changes. The Realtors and developers are doing everything they can to pack in housing now that Arizona’s property values have risen. The problem is, there are few decent-paying jobs, so most of the people who are attracted to town are retirees, many of whom live here only part of the year. The summer economy is terrible and many businesses close up for the season. Others struggle and close up forever. Tax rates are rising, the town’s annexation policies have caused them to annex more property than they can support with services, including police protection. There’s evidence of drug dealings in town and the police seem unable to deal with it. If things continue the way they are, Wickenburg will be just another suburb of Phoenix, with all the problems that come with a metropolitan area.

    You need to read what’s going on lately on wickenburg-az.com to get a better idea of the political climate. The mayor and council have voted to allow a high density housing project that the majority of Wickenburg voters voted against. Many people are suspicious of their motives, since they’re obviously not in tune with the voters. It’s getting ugly.

    Wickenburg is livable — yes. Lovable? Less every day. Is there hope? I like to think so. Some voters are fighting back. If we can get self-serving politicians replaced with honest people who care about Wickenburg, we may be able to bring back the Wickenburg some of us knew and loved.

  3. Wow, that’s disappointing. High-density housing projects? Yuck.

    I’m trying to get away from such urban surroundings here in KC. It’s not L.A. or New York, but it’s definitely not small-town, which is kind of what I’m looking for and was hoping to find in Wickenburg.

    I definitely don’t want high taxes or for it to turn into “just another suburb of Phoenix.” I didn’t care for Phoenix 25 years ago and I’ve heard it’s much worse now.

    I love Wickenburg, and it pains me to hear that it’s not anything like what I remember. Maybe I should look to Prescott or Flagstaff instead. I have bookmarked wickenburg-az.com and will check it daily to see how it’s going. I hope for the people of Wickenburg and for future potential residents such as myself, things will change for the better and soon.

  4. Prescott’s a nice town. We looked into relocating there about 2 years ago. Unfortunately, my husband got a job down in Phoenix and the commute would have been too far for him — not that it isn’t far now. Prescott’s big and has traffic problems, but if you live on the outskirts, you can avoid a lot of that in day-to-day life. It also has a college, so there are more young people there. (Wickenburg has really become a retirement town.) And lots of outdoor activities. I flew over the other day and saw a car show and an art fair right downtown.

    Flag is very nice but also expensive. And it gets cold in the winter.

    If you like remote, check out Skull Valley, about 15 miles from Prescott.

    Southeastern Arizona’s supposed to be really nice, too, but I haven’t had time to check it out.

    But don’t give up on Wickenburg. With luck, the voters will prevail and we’ll do our best to preserve what’s great about the town before it’s all swept away.

What do you think?