By Lily Altavena for The Arizona Republic
As he looks out at acre after acre of his dairy farm, Jim Boyle Jr. is not wistful at the idea of leaving the land his family has farmed for 40 years. He’s hopeful.
“The East Valley had a large number of dairies, and they’ve all been replaced by development,” he said. “Which, you know, is good in a lot of ways, most of those guys were able to sell their land and build bigger dairies.”
Boyle Jr.’s dairy is one of five in the neighborhood near southeast Mesa involved in a massive, 860-acre zoning request. It’s a critical juncture for the dairymen: They need to decide whether to stay in the area or go. Equipment is aging and it’s time to expand, to milk more cows to keep up with an industry gone global.
Farmers Look to Join Mesa
Their decision hinges on Mesa annexing and zoning the land to increase its value for sale to a developer.
If the dairymen are successful in zoning the primarily-agriculture land to housing, commercial and other uses, it’s likely they’ll pack up and sell, moving to counties with far more space for agriculture, like Pinal or Pima. If the zoning fails, the dairies will probably stay put for decades, investing tens of millions in upgrades.
The neighborhood borders Gilbert. Christened the “inner loop” by those in the planning effort, it’s the area near Loop 202 around Elliot and Hawes Road. Much of the land falls within Maricopa County and will require annexation into Mesa before development could take off.
The group of dairy farmers plan to take their zoning application to Mesa later this year, according to Jordan Rose, the attorney representing the farmers. The group wants to work with city officials to refine the plan for approval by the City Council next year. The proposed land-use plan so far includes residential, urban mixed-use, commercial and office space areas.
Planning for the Future
Boyle Jr. envisions a bigger property for his operation. Somewhere in the state where he can raise more animals and install high-tech cooling.
It’s up to the dairies if they want to leave, Mesa Councilman Kevin Thompson said.
But he does not want to see hasty planning. He wants the area to grow strategically, with opportunities for businesses to expand, maybe more office space. Big companies have moved in right across the freeway in the Elliot Road Technology Corridor near Signal Butte. Apple has a massive data center. A Niagara bottling facility is under construction down the street.
The proposed inner loop development is not in the corridor, but there is talk to extend the area to include the land, a city spokesperson said.
About 37 percent (316 acres) of the 860 acres are zoned for single-family housing, Rose said. The jobs per household ratio is two to one. The group of dairymen will continue to work with the city and other stakeholders to refine their plan and figure out the best use for the land, Rose said.
The dairymen want a decision by around spring 2018. Boyle Jr. said it would take about year to pack up and build a new dairy. Though the land holds his family history and his kids are growing up there, it’s not the same.
Farms that are part of the plan include Boyle Dairy, Van Rijn Dairy, Maynard Dairy, Rijlaarsdam Dairy and Feenstra Dairy. The farms are near Loop 202 and Elliot Road.
Read more at The Arizona Republic.