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Chandler's goal: More neighborly neighborhoods

By: Doug Snover

Feb. 3, 2007

Getting to know the neighbors isn’t exactly a specialty for many Arizonans. Stefanie Garcia and Judy Ramos find themselves in a similar situation, with one big difference: they want to know entire neighborhoods.

Garcia and Ramos help homeowner associations and traditional neighborhoods connect with the multitude of services available to them through Chandler’s Office of Neighborhood Programs, for which they share responsibility.

Getting to know the neighbors, it seems, is something many Arizonans struggle with. Our relationships with the people next door or down the street often don’t progress beyond a smile and a wave when walking the dog or driving by on the way home from work.

Especially challenging is getting to know the neighborhoods west of the Loop 101, in the so-called West Side, that part of Chandler included in the Kyrene Corridor.

Chandler maintains some lovely parks on the West Side and has a public library and public safety facilities there. But for many residents who work in Tempe or Phoenix, Chandler City Hall and the heart of municipal programs might seem a long way away.

The challenge facing Garcia and Ramos is to get to know the westside neighborhoods and help their residents get to know the municipal services available to them through the Office of Neighborhood Programs. And in the process, help the residents get to know each other,
For instance, Chandler has for several years offered municipal grants of up to $5,000 for homeowners associations (HOAs) and up to $10,000 for traditional neighborhood associations to be used to spruce up neighborhoods or even host festivals so residents can get to know each other.

The grant program is on temporary hiatus while being overhauled, but is likely to return soon, Garcia noted.

Last year, Chandler gave out $83,500 in grants to 17 different neighborhood associations and HOAs. The money was used for such things as neighborhood landscaping, signage at neighborhood boundaries, block wall improvements for low-income residents, security lighting, and localized festivals and picnics.

None of the money went to West Side neighborhoods, however.
Right now, there are about 240 neighborhood associations and HOAs registered with the Office of Neighborhood Programs. That’s a huge increase from a few years ago.

“It’s free and voluntary,” Garcia noted. “And self-defining.”

By self-defining, she means that residents in a traditional neighborhood where there is no established HOA can contact the city to register their own neighborhood association with whatever boundaries the residents choose. All that is needed is two people willing to serve as contacts with the city, Garcia explained.

“Judy and I will schedule a meeting with the primary contacts to figure out what other city departments could become involved,” Garcia said.
What often happens is that one or more residents will call City Hall to complain. Cars are speeding through the neighborhoods. Trees and shrubs are overgrown. Vehicles are parked on front yards. Alleys are full of weeds.
When the caller finally connects with Ramos or Garcia, they offer help organizing the surrounding homeowners to tackle the problems.
Ramos and Garcia even have a small budget to help neighborhoods publish newsletters to keep the residents informed of the issues. “We really want to promote communication,” Ramos said.

“Once we get them thinking, we’ll ask people what is it about your neighborhood that you love to get them to also focus on the positive,” Ramos noted.

Kyrene Corridor resident Marguerite Munkachy has served for several years on Chandler’s Neighborhood Advisory Committee. She has lived for seven years in Chandler’s so-called West Side and understands the distance from City Hall.

“I don’t feel that we are stepchildren at all,” Munkachy said.

“In terms of availability to the actual, physical offices, yes, we’re not close to City Hall,” she said. “But in terms of not being in touch, I don’t feel they (city officials) have left us out of the loop.”

Munkachy said it is logical that some of Chandler’s older areas signed up for the city’s neighborhood registry first, while the newer, often more affluent neighborhoods west of the Loop 101 did not. The older areas needed the city’s help right away, she said.

But West Side neighborhoods “absolutely” should take advantage of the city’s offerings, Munkachy said.

“If they are an organized HOA and they haven’t registered with the city, they should do that. They are kept more in the loop,” she said.


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