SAFFORD — In a Thursday evening, May 16, meeting and public hearing, the Safford Planning and Zoning Commission voted not to recommend a zoning amendment that would have added homeless shelters as a conditional use in the city’s highway commercial district.
The commissioners did, however, discuss recommending alternative districts for a shelter.
The text amendment to the city zoning code, adding shelters to the C-2 highway commercial district, was requested by the Gila Valley Ministerial Association. The association is looking to open a shelter, to be called the Gila Valley Samaritan Home, in a building near the intersection of Highways 70 and 191 that was given to them.
“We’re looking at being able to take an individual and maybe get them out of that situation,” said Vaughn Grant, representing the association. “Something needs to be done differently than we’re presently doing. We feel with this building that we’d be able to at least start there.”
After presentations by Safford Planning and Community Development Director Susan Anderson and the association, the commissioners listened to citizens’ concerns over the facility.
Those concerns included safety risks to children in the shelter, to which the association replied the shelter would not house families; semi truck crashes near the intersection; possible expansion of the shelter; the presence of drugs at the adjacent Tour Rest Motel; drawing more homeless individuals to the neighborhood; lack of parking; and impact on property values.
“I just don’t think the corridor along the highway is any place for a homeless shelter. I know there needs to be solutions, but it’s a very hard nut to crack,” Marty Allred said.
Following the advice of city staff, the commissioners then voted to deny the text amendment request.
“We do not consider this to be the highest and best use for properties in this district, due to the fact that this type of use is not in line with typical highway commercial uses,” Anderson said. “Additionally, there are safety concerns with having a shelter facility located on or near a five-lane highway.”
The commissioners also suggested looking into the possibility of a shelter in one of the city’s agricultural residential districts, where Anderson said the zoning code would permit it. Their recommendation on the amendment will go before the Safford City Council.
GRAHAM COUNTY — Some Valley residents have recently reported animals caught, and left in, leghold traps near the Gila River, raising the question of whether such traps are legal.
The answer is that, in some cases, they are. Approved by voters in 1994, the Arizona Public Land Trapping Statute prohibited using leghold traps on public land with a few exceptions (health or safety uses, scientific research, wildlife relocation, rodent control). However, the ban does not apply to private property.
Mike Taylor said he first noticed a trapped skunk on one of his trips to the Gila River.
“I didn’t want to mess with the skunk, and it wasn’t my trap so it wasn’t my business,” he said.
But when he went back three days later, it was still in the same leghold trap.
“Somebody’s obviously not coming and checking the traps, and it’s kind of cruel just to leave an animal there for days with no food or water,” Taylor said.
Knowing whether a leghold trap is on public or private land is difficult, but even on private land there are regulations. Arizona Game and Fish Department manager Devin Skinner told the Courier trappers are required to physically check their traps daily and that the devices should have an attached trapper ID.
Taylor said the traps he discovered did not have the ID. Neither did the trap Bonnie Chapin said she collected around two months ago from the desert area between the river and Little Hollywood.
“I’ve come across several traps in the last year,” Taylor said.
About three weeks after finding and putting down the skunk, he said, he saw a dog in a trap “on the edge of the river” in the Central area.
“I was kind of scared at first, not knowing if it would try to bite me. I don’t know how long it had been there, but, fortunately, it was nice enough that I went up to it. I was able to release it and it took off running. I’m sure it belonged to somebody; it didn’t have tags, but it had a collar.”
It was different for Chapin, who said her dog did try biting her as she worked to release it from the trap. Chapin said it happened as she was walking her two dogs in the desert area north of Little Hollywood and that, fortunately, the dog was unhurt.
“I thank God nothing happened to him,” she said.
She estimated the trap, anchored to a tree, was only a few feet off the road.
Chapin wondered who placed the trap and why; Taylor believed someone was placing the Central-area traps “just because they want to go out and do it.
“They’re putting them down right where people go fishing all the time, right where you walk,” he added.
Taylor said leghold traps were unlikely to harm adults, unless their hand was caught, but posed a risk for pets and children.
Skinner said avoiding such traps is difficult because they are hard to spot.
“Usually people will bury them,” Taylor said.
If an animal is caught in one, it can be released by stepping or pressing on the sides of the trap.
Anyone who suspects a leghold trap has been illegally placed on public property, or violates other regulations, can anonymously report it to Arizona Game and Fish by calling Operation Game Thief at 1-800-352-0700; the line is open 24 hours a day.