Plaza Dr. shortcut closed off indefinitely while landowner explores options with the city
By Bill Van Nimwegen
Apache Junction drivers are doing an “about face” since the closure of a popular shortcut from North Plaza Drive into and out of the Patterns of the Past Antique Mall parking lot.
The private driveway was frequently used as an unofficial extension of N. Plaza by patrons of several businesses that line the west and southwest corner of the parcel. There is also a gated entry to Lost Dutchman RV Resort just north of the new barrier.
Residents of Lost Dutchman often accessed the plaza lot with their golf carts and an opening was left for them, but their cars can only make northbound turns when leaving. “Residents used to be able to easily pick up a pizza. Now they have to drive all the way around to get to those businesses,” said Lost Dutchman Activities Manager Jackie Vargo.
Also, the shortcut once provided a way to skirt intersections on N. Idaho Rd. at N. Apache Trail and Superstition Blvd. to visit Earth Heart Park, Horizon Health and Wellness, the U.S. Post Office and Social Security office.
The through traffic became too much to manage, according to landlord Sim Lamba. He put the barrier up to slow wear and tear to the asphalt. “I didn’t do it to disrupt things,” he told The News. “I am trying to secure my dollar.”
Sim’s father, T.J. Lamba, has owned the property since about 2007. His family lives in New York and bought the property as an investment before the U.S. economy took a turn downward, leaving many with undervalued holdings. The low property value may explain why there have been no improvements made to Lamba’s property, which once had Basha’s as its anchor tenant. The property now has fallen out of compliance with current building code, which makes it unattractive to investors.
Nine years ago, after city residents and patrons of the plaza began complaining to the city about serious tire damage from potholes in the parking lot, compliance staff began writing letters to Lamba to fix his property. Lack of action from the landowner eventually led to citations and a municipal court warrant being issued for T.J. Lamba’s arrest. The recent pothole filling activity has resulted in Lamba’s warrant being quashed by the court.
“I have spent $100,000 over the past three years fixing potholes and other upkeep,” Sim Lamba said. The property was originally purchased for about $3 million, so less than 3% spent on maintenance over 11 years does not seem unreasonable, but Lamba is asking the city to work with him on maintaining the roadway at the end of N. Plaza Dr.
When the property was sold to Lamba, the seller had secured the right of way to Plaza Dr., making the whole parcel private land. Similar arrangements can be found in other parts of the city, such as the access road to the Frontier Ace shopping center from the parking lot of Wells Fargo Bank off S. Phelps Dr.
Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell said that he and city economic development staff have been talking with the property owner, but they are not clear about what kind of help from the city Lamba expects.
“The city has already made sidewalk and roadway improvements around his property on Apache Trail and have opened nearby Flatiron Park,” Powell said. “The city has now spent $3 million on improvements.” Powell speculated that if the owner deeded back some of his property to the city, there may be a way for the city to become more involved financially. “We have an estimate of $900,000 to build a road at Plaza Dr.”
For now, the current plan is to leave the barrier up while the future is discussed. Sim Lamba said he is trying to come back to Apache Junction next month and may take up the discussion then. “The city wants to plan for 20- 30 years out, but I am interested in what can be done a year from now,” Lamba said. “They are looking at investors down the road, but I am here now, and I love Apache Junction.”
Photo above: The landowner recently put up a temporary barrier (above), thwarting the popular shortcut on N. Plaza Dr.