Buying acreage or raw land in Unincorporated Maricopa County can appear to be a daunting confusing task as to jurisdictions, restrictions, water well, hauled water, electricity issues and flood plain.
First and foremost, decide on the size of parcel you would like to own. Much of the property in the Rio Verde Foothills was divided in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Typically a developer would work off of a main county road, establish easements to their subdivision and go from there. The next developer would piggy back on the access easements established by the previous developer and add their own. The main county road easements tend to be wider than the private ingress easements which are typically 20′ wide. The private easements will run along a perimeter of the development and be a part of the parcel sold. Property lines typically do not extend into the county rights of way, they border the right of way.
Unincorporated Maricopa County zones all of the land. There are numerous designations assigned to the areas however, be cognizant of the following as it relates to a homesite or small ranch. R-43 simply means 1 residence per acre, there is 43,560 square feet in an acre and the 43 refers to the square footage of the parcel. So, if a tract is two acres, zoned R-43, you can have two residences on that parcel, but you will need to subdivide the parcel into two 1-acre tracts. Other zoning designations applicable are as follows: R-70 or 1 dwelling per 70,000 square feet and R-190 or 1 dwelling unit per 190,000 square feet.
Floodplain and Drainage In Unincorporated Maricopa County
Floodplain and drainage are important issues to be concerned with. The high desert doesn’t see much rain and when it does, it can turn into a torrent of water as the soil is not conducive to absorbing water. The Maricopa Flood Control District has a wealth of resources available that you can access on line at Maricopa County Flood Control District. such as FEMA maps, overlay flood control districts and flow rates of washes.
While most parcels are square or rectangular, some are irregular in shape. Much of the land is legally described using townships and ranges. There are very few tracts described by metes and bounds. The typical marking process is for iron rods to be driven in the ground denoting a corner. Many times extended white PVC pipes are placed over the iron rods so that one can view the corners from any spot on the parcel.
Restrictions or CCR’s
Many times, in the subdivision of a larger parcel, CCR’s, or Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions are enforced. These are located in the chain of title that you will see in a Title Report. The CCR’s may restrict the property further as an overlay on the Maricopa zoning ordinances. Typical CCR’s will include animal units, square footage of the dwelling, exterior construction of the dwelling and may even include restrictions about a “building envelope” or footprint. I recently was involved in the sale of a parcel that had an arena. The arena was deemed to be an improvement and violated the CCR’s as to the building envelope. The good news is that we identified this during the “due diligence” period and as a result, did not purchase the property.
Much of the land in Unincorporated Maricopa County is encumbered by “access easements“. These easements are typically 20′ wide and follow a perimeter line of the property, but are either split by the adjoining property (10′ each side of the common line) or fall entirely on a parcel. There have been conflicts between neighbors about restricting the right to access a property adjoining an easement contained entirely upon a parcel. As the common boundary line is on the outside edge of the easement, the dispute arises when an owner places a fence along the common boundary line and contains the access easement within the fence, denying access to the adjoining parcel.
Water in the desert can be a difficult issue to deal with but options do exist. In Unincorporated Maricopa County there are typically 3 options, a private well, a shared well and hauled water. In the situation of a private well, the property owner would own the well, likely on the parcel and be the only residence using the water. In a shared well, there may be multiple members sharing water through a shared well agreement. The agreement will outline how the costs will be allocated as well as any maintenance expense and the utilization of the water. With hauled water, likely, the owner of a parcel will place a holding tank on their property and pump water from the holding tank for their personal use.
A note on wells in Unincorporated Maricopa County and the Rio Verde Foothills….the water depth and quality varies significantly from location to location. For example, in the southwest area of the Rio Verde Foothills bounded by McDowell Mountain Regional Park, 138th Street, Dynamite Road and `143rd Place, the water table is roughly in the 400′ depth range, but the volume is in the neighborhood of 1 gallon per minute….maybe. As you move to the east there are wells producing 30 gallons per minute on the south side of Dynamite on 144th St. Move north across Dynamite and the water volume increases. When you get to the 160th street area water volume is still there however the area is noted to have suspended solids in it which are difficult and expensive to filter out.
In purchasing a parcel with a well, you can ask for a Water Well Disclosure from the seller. The same applies for a shared well.
Electricity is available to most parts of Unincorporated Maricopa County however extension of those utilities can be expensive. Recently, I extended a primary line to a meter to power a well pump. The distance was 340′ and my total cost exceeded $6,000 with pipe, line, trenching, concrete and a meter pedestal. Be careful how far you have to run electricity.
One thing we have discovered in living in Unincorporated Maricopa County is that cell service is only reliable with Verizon. AT&T is spotty at best and the other carriers are non-existent.
The roads in Unincorporated Maricopa County are mostly natural soil. There are a couple of roads north of Dynamite that are paved, but if you have to have a paved road you will be limited to those few streets that are paved. The balance of the roads were simply cut out of the desert. Culverts are virtually non-existent as is road grading or maintenance by Maricopa County. The majority of the roads are graded by residents that have the luxury or access to a tractor with a box blade. So as soon as it rains, the neighbors are out in force with their equipment doing their best to level the roads and remove the washboard.
Two more factors to consider are dust and flooding. Arizona is subject to flash flooding and if you cross washes, which are prevalent in this area, you may well have to wait for the water to recede to make it to your home after a rain. The second issue, dust is just a factor of the desert….it can be dusty out here.
So, at the end of the day, do you prefer to deal with knowledge, or do you want to deal with glitz…..