What is a County Island in Phoenix?

Dec 26, 2018

Phoenix may be in the middle of the desert, but you may be surprised to learn that we DO have islands here! Not the kind with sand and a palm tree - I'm talking about county islands. In this post I am going to talk about county islands for those who are not familiar with them.

What is a county island?
If you have recently moved to Arizona from the East Coast or the Mid-Western United States or are thinking about moving here, the concept of a county island may be completely foreign of to you. Let's start with a definition: A county island is an area of unincorporated land which is completely surrounded by an incorporated city or town. That's right, even if you buy a home within the City of Phoenix and have a Phoenix address, you may be on county land and not technically part of Phoenix!

How do you find county islands?
In the example below, all I did was perform a search for "Phoenix, Arizona" on Google Maps. Google outlines the city boundaries, but you can see that there are some irregular shapes which are not part of Phoenix, even though they may be surrounded on all sides by Phoenix - hence the name, islands.

Example of County Islands in North Phoenix
Many other Phoenix-area cities including Glendale, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek, and others have county islands as well. In the example below, you can see that the city of Chandler, AZ is full of them, particularly in the southern portion of the city. The actual boundaries of the city of Chandler are quite unusual!

Google Maps showing county islands within the city of Chandler, AZ

What are the pros and cons of living in a county island?
There are some pros and cons of living in a county island, which I will explore below.

I must preface this with the disclaimer that I am not a licensed realtor or a lawyer, and it is YOUR responsibility to look up local laws and ordinances in your area, as they will certainly vary from one jurisdiction to another.

Advantages of a living in a County Island
  • Residents of county islands generally do not have to pay residential property tax on their home, because property tax is levied by cities.
  • Federal, State and County laws still apply, but city laws may not apply. Therefore residents may be able to store and work on vehicles, own chickens, goats, horses, or other livestock not permitted by residential city codes or ordinances.
  • County Island residents are not governed by Home Owners Associations (HOAs). This is why you will often find horse properties, commercial vehicle storage, and other activities taking place within county islands which are typically not permitted within most cities and towns.
  • An example would be a person who stores a large motorhome, boat, or other recreational vehicle on their property. Within city limits, the homeowner is likely to get complaints from neighbors about the large vehicle parked on their property - which could result in a city code violation. A person living on county land will typically not have such restrictions, which are often part of a city's code or charter.
  • Another example would be the owner of a company. Perhaps it is a construction company, plumbing, electrical, roofing, HVAC, or other home services company - or perhaps a commercial towing operator, etc. Within many cities, homeowners cannot store a fleet of commercial vehicles at their house. Within a county island however, this is often permitted.

Disadvantages of living in a County Island
  • Homes are typically not connected to city services such as water and sewer services. Residents may rely on a shared well and or septic system for their home. In some cases they may be served by a private water company.
  • Homes in county islands also do not receive solid waste collection services from the surrounding city. Residents must contract with a private company for residential trash collection and do not receive bulk trash pickup without an additional charge.
  • County Islands may or may not have paved streets, sidewalks and streetlights. If they do, they are not maintained or serviced by the city.
  • Calls for police assistance will be responded to by the County Sheriff, which may result in a longer response time than the local municipal police force.
  • Fire and Emergency/Medical services are not usually provided to residents in a County Island. In some cases there may be a special Fire District to provide services, or residents may subscribe to services from the surrounding city for an annual fee.
  • Residents of a county island are not eligible to vote in city elections, such as for the mayor. (They can still vote in county, state, and Federal elections).
Will a county island always be a safe haven?
Living in a county island may be appealing to some people who favor reduced government involvement in their lives. However, the status of a county island is not guaranteed. In some jurisdictions, a county island may be annexed by the surrounding city if 51% of the residents vote in favor of the annexation. While it is unlikely to happen, it has happened before and could happen again. However, this is unlikely since many of the residents of a county island are likely to live there by choice and may share a similar mindset and reasons for living in such an area.

Are county islands a good place to live?
Well, that depends on your perspective. Living in a county island may align with your personal beliefs about reduced government intervention in the lives of private citizens, or if you are a business owner, there may be some real financial incentives to living in an unincorporated area.

However, many county islands are lacking in basic city amenities such as water and trash service, sidewalks, streetlights, or even paved roads. Residents may not like having to pay private companies for trash collection or paying an annual fee to be receive coverage by emergency fire/medical services.

Now that you know about some of the advantages and disadvantages of county islands, you can decide for yourself if living in one is right for you. It is something to be cautious of if you are moving or relocating to the Phoenix area and are not familiar with the concept of County Islands. 

Developer Plans Bell 17 Business Park for North Phoenix

Nov 22, 2018

Four years ago, I wrote a post called The Mystery of Phoenix Northgate that explored the history behind a large, vacant parcel of land near 19th Avenue and Bell Road in North Phoenix. Several commenters wrote in to share their knowledge of the ill-fated development.

A New Chapter for Phoenix Northgate
The land eventually became State Trust land, which is often sold at auction. Earlier this year in June 2018, the Arizona State Land Department sold the 93.25 acre parcel at auction for $26.5 million dollars. The buyer was a San Diego, California developer called Sunbelt Land Holdings. Proceeds from the sale of State Trust Land go into a fund that benefits Arizona's K-12 public schools.

Concept Illustration of the Bell 17 Business Park by CBRE.

After sitting dormant for decades, progress on the land across from the famous Turf Paradise race track now appears to moving along quickly. The Phoenix Business Journal reported on November 13th that Sunbelt Land Holdings had purchased another parcel of land, 51 acres in size, near 40th St and the Loop 202 freeway, for $25.8 million.

Sunbelt plans to develop master-planned business parks on both sites. The North Phoenix location is tentatively called Bell 17 Business Park, according to a sign on the property. Initial plans call for 1 million square feet of developed space, spread out over 12 to 16 buildings. The development will include both office and retail space, according to the Business Journal.

The project is expected to break ground in the year 2020. The developer has selected Balmer Architectural Group Inc. for the project, but has not yet announced a general contractor.

Neighborhood in Decline
The neighborhood surrounding 19th Ave and Bell intersection has been struggling with crime and other issues for about a decade. The opening of a new Wal-Mart store on the southeast corner in early 2007 brought an increase in transients and other petty crimes to the area.

Four Phoenix Police cars on a typical night at the 19th Ave and Bell Road Walmart store.

An article published in the Arizona Republic on December 14, 2016 studied the number of calls that Phoenix Police received from 2011 through mid-2016. Records obtained by The Republic showed that three of the top five addresses with the most police calls were Wal-Mart stores. The 19th Ave and Bell Road Wal-Mart ranked 4th in Phoenix for highest number of police calls during the time period. Locations #2 and #5 on the list were large apartment complexes.

Furthermore, a 2016 property crime report published by the Phoenix Police Department shows a "Very High" concentration of property crimes centered on the intersection of N 19th Avenue and W Bell Road in North Phoenix.

This data is similar to the crime map published by real estate website Trulia, which pulls in data from SpotCrime.com and CrimeReports.com. Again, there is a high instance of crime in the vicinity of 19th Ave and Bell compared to surrounding areas.

Famed local steakhouse Bill Johnson's Big Apple closed their North Phoenix location in May 2014. The restaurant was quickly transformed into Pawn 1st, a pawn shop, which is still in operation.

A nearby motel at 17th Ave and Bell Road (across the street from two different cash loan/title loan stores) is well-known to police and locals as a hotspot for prostitution. With a pitiful 1.5 star rating on Google, numerous reviewers mention prostitutes drug dealers, and homeless transients as a problem. With 335 reviews on Google and the vast majority of them being "1-star" ratings, there are enough of them that it simply cannot be a coincidence or an isolated incident.

Possible Turnaround?
Will the construction of a new master-planned office park at 19th and Bell help turn this struggling area around? It is hopeful that the addition of higher paying professional jobs will clean up the area, which is surprisingly rough considering its location in the otherwise quiet sprawl of the North Valley suburbs. We'll be sure to keep you updated on this project as it moves forward.

Remembering Lenny Monti's Restaurant

Sep 25, 2018

Much has been written about Monti's La Casa Vieja, one of the oldest and most famous restaurants in all of Phoenix. But much less attention has been given to the second Monti's location in North Phoenix - one that has nearly been forgotten to history. Today, I hope to tell that story.

The Hayden House
It was 1873 when Charles Trumbull Hayden, a businessman and one of the earliest settlers of Tempe, built an adobe hacienda for his family, located directly across the street from his flour mill. Other websites document the history of the building with much greater detail than I can, but over the years it underwent a number of expansions and served as a boarding house, private residence, and a restaurant. In 1924, the house was restored to its original appearance.

Monti's La Casa Vieja
In 1947, Leonard F. Monti, a World War II veteran, moved to Chandler and opened a restaurant called Monti's Grill. In 1954, he bought Hayden's adobe house and opened Monti's La Casa Vieja ("The Old House") in 1956.

Monti's La Casa Vieja restaurant in Tempe operated for 58 years before closing in 2014.
The restaurant was famous for its Western decor and art collection and was popular for many years - serving up steaks, prime rib, seafood, and other dishes. Later additions brought the property to 20,769 square feet, creating an unusual interior layout that was a labyrinth of more than a dozen connected rooms.

Leonard Monti passed the family business down to his son Michael Monti in 1993, and sadly the founder "Lenny" as he was often called passed away in 1997 at 85 years old. The restaurant is recognized as one of the oldest structures in the Salt River Valley, and the oldest continuously occupied structure in Tempe. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and the Tempe Historic Property Register in 2000.

End of an Era
After 58 years, Michael Monti announced in 2014 that the restaurant's rising costs of operation had forced him to sell the property. The famous Monti's La Casa Vieja closed in late 2014 after 58 years of service. The building and its 2.5 acres of land were sold to a Colorado based developer, Hensel Phelps, who planned to build a new mixed-use office/retail development called One Hundred Mill. The later additions to the Hayden House were demolished, but the original adobe structure was preserved and was intended for use as a restaurant.

At the time of writing in late 2018, no construction has taken place and the developer had agreed to sell the building back to the City of Tempe as well as invest in renovations and improvements to the 145 year old structure, and reimburse the city for property tax breaks that were given as an incentive.

Lenny Monti's House of Steaks
Lenny Monti's House of Steaks - Phoenix
Not much is known about the history of Lenny Monti's second location in North Phoenix. The restaurant was formerly located at 12025 N 19th Ave. (near 19th Ave. and Cactus Rd.) at the base of Shaw Butte mountain.

Historical aerial imagery shows a building in that location in the Spring of 1976.

The November 19, 1981 issue of the Arizona Republic carried this ad for Monti's:
Lenny & his family invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Complete turkey dinner $25 w/all the trimmings plus dessert. Children's portions only $3.00. We will be serving from our regular menu also. For Thanksgiving reservations call 997-5844. 12025 N 19th Ave Phoenix. 19th Ave and Cactus.

A later advertisement from May 22, 1998 featured a section of "North Phoenix Community Cuisine" with the following advertisement for Monti's:

LENNY MONTI'S RESTAURANT 12025 N. 19th Ave. - 997-5844 Upholding a nearly 50 year tradition isn't easy, but Leonard Monti, Jr., son Mario and daughter, Gina continue to serve Phoenix at 19th Avenue and Cactus with the same excellence in food and warm ambiance that his parents began back in 1947. Original artwork along with native American art and jewelry are showcased in an elegant western decor; a perfect compliment to Lenny Monti's famous steaks, prime rib and mouth watering seafood. An outdoor dining area surrounds a fountain in the courtyard. Enjoy your next lunch, dinner or banquet at Lenny Monti's 19th Avenue and Cactus location, and you'll see why the Monti family tradition of good food, generous portions and good prices are a legend in the valley! One of the long-time regulars put it: "Lenny Monti knows how to treat a steak and a customer". Lenny Monti's is open seven days a week Sunday thru Thursday 11AM to 10PM and Friday. Saturday 11AM to 11PM. Weekend reservations are suggested. 

The building was in place until April 2005, and was torn down by early 2006. It is not known if it operated as Lenny Monti's the entire time. In 2016, a discount retail store called Family Dollar was built on part of the site formerly occupied by Lenny Monti's. All that remains of the restaurant is the sign at the corner of the parking lot:

The sign is all that remains of the former Lenny Monti's location in North Phoenix at 19th Ave. and Cactus Road
Do you know more about the history of Monti's second location in North Phoenix? Please leave us a comment below, and thanks for reading!

Private Airport/Airpark Homes in Phoenix

Aug 18, 2018

The dream of every private pilot is being able to walk out their front door and take to the skies. For a lucky few, that dream is a reality. There are a handful of residential communities in the greater Phoenix area with homes built on a private airstrip.

I am intrigued by these airpark neighborhoods where amateur pilots can park their personal aircraft in a hangar that is attached to their house. I find it very cool that you can choose to live in a neighborhood of people who share your same passion and lifestyle centered around aviation. 

Here is a quick rundown of the different communities I was able to find:

Sky Ranch at Carefree
Carefree, AZ 85377

16 homes
Home Values: $700k to $2.5 million
Designation: 18AZ 
Runway 6/24 (paved)

Hangar Haciendas Airpark

Laveen Village, AZ 85339
25 homes
Home Values: $400k to $800k

Designation AZ90
Runway 8/26 (paved)

Stellar Airpark

Chandler, AZ 85226
87 luxury homes
Home Values: $490k to $2.5 million and $1.5 to $8 million

Designation: P19
Runway 17/35 (paved) 

Pegasus Airpark

Queen Creek, AZ 85142
50 luxury homes
Home Values: $600k to $1.2 million

Designation: 5AZ3
Runway 8/26 (paved)

Thunder Ridge Airpark

Morristown, AZ 85342
9 homes
Home Values: $450k to $1.5 million
Designation: AZ28
Runway 17/35 (paved)

Little-Known Cemeteries in Phoenix

May 6, 2018

Like many cultures, Americans have designated special places as the final resting place for our loved ones. I'm talking about cemeteries - the very word may conjure up mental image of trees, grass, and markers in neat, uniform rows.

Unfortunately, not everyone ends up in such peaceful serenity. There are a number of small, little-known cemeteries around the Phoenix area that have come up in my research. I would not call them abandoned cemeteries as there is certainly someone looking after them, but you might not guess that at first glance.

What makes these different from other cemeteries is that they are often very small, tucked away in neighborhoods, and lacking the green grass and weeping willow trees we are accustomed to seeing. They do not have adequate or visible signage, and many of them are historic and not accepting new burials. Some of them are not open to the public. Let's take a look:

Crosscut Cemetery
325 N 47th Pl., Phoenix, AZ 85008

Just 0.83 acres in size, this small cemetery is located in a residential neighborhood near the Old Crosscut Canal. It is a dirt lot surrounded by a chain-link fence, behind a 7-Eleven convenience store.

Crosscut Cemetery - Phoenix, AZ

Twin Buttes County Cemetery

Twin Buttes Cemetery - Tempe, AZ

Originally known as the Maricopa County Cemetery, this cemetery was in use from 1890 to 1952, when it was closed. The cemetery is locked and there is no seen access.

About 7,000 people were interred from 1890 to 1951. It was owned and administered by Maricopa county but more recently was deeded to the City of Phoenix. It has not been maintained recently but the city did construct an iron fence around it to prevent theft of the headstones and driving vehicles over the graves. It is currently administered by the Pioneers' Cemetery Association (PCA).

Cementerio Lindo - Phoenix, AZ

Old Paths Cemetery (Weedville) (Private)
N 72nd Ave and W Cemetery Rd (near 75th Ave and Thunderbird in Peoria)
At just 0.36 acres in size, this is one of the smallest cemeteries on our list. It is private and not accessible to the public. It is located in a neighborhood in the former community of Weedville, a small community founded in 1911 that was later annexed by the City of Peoria.

Old Paths Cemetery - Peoria, AZ

Russian Molokan Cemetery
N 75th Ave and W Maryland Ave, Glendale, AZ 85303
(Between Glendale Ave and Bethany Home Rd)

Russian Molokans were a group of Spiritual Christians that established an agricultural community in Glendale, Arizona in the early 1900s. Today, this 1.1 acre historic cemetery is about all that remains. The grounds are locked and not accessible to the general public. The cemetery is unique in that there is no grass, no trees, nothing growing at all. It is the opposite of what we may imagine a "typical" cemetery looking like.

Russian Molokan Cemetery - Glendale, AZ

Mt. Sinai Jewish Cemetery
24210 N 68th St., Phoenix, AZ 85054

The most unusual thing about this cemetery is its unusual location - hidden behind an electrical substation in the desert of north Scottsdale. The 20.4 acre cemetery is a beautiful final resting ground for members of the Jewish faith, and yet it remains hidden in plain sight. 

Mt. Sinai Cemetery - Phoenix, AZ
Guadalupe Cemetery
4649 S Beck Ave., Tempe, AZ 85282

This historic cemetery for the Town of Guadalupe dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. The town's first church was constructed there in 1904, but the land did not officially belong to Guadalupe until 1979. Today it is surrounded by residential homes on all sides.

Guadalupe Cemetery - Tempe, AZ
Do you know about any other obscure or little-known cemeteries in the greater Phoenix area? Please share your stories with us by posting a comment!


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