While plans for the proposed Fountain Hills Town Square project are still in the works, a Web site and petition have cropped up challenging the project.
The $140 million development - the biggest proposal to hit the town in years - has been under wraps while town officials parley with developers Kasnoff Investments and Conrad Properties West.
"It's not dead. It's moving forward," said Mayor Wally Nichols, though he was unsure when or if a deal might be reached between town and developer. While a number of residents have doted on the downtown project, the new Web site hypes a different view.
SavetheFountain.com claims the venture could "destroy the natural beauty and serenity that Fountain Hills is known for."
"Do we really want to be nothing more than Mesa North or Scottsdale East?" it asks.
More than 45 people have signed the site's online petition, said Jim Thompson, a resident affiliated with the site. He plans to hand it over to the town.
Encompassing 13 acres southwest of Avenue of the Fountains and Saguaro Boulevard, the project could contain a 12-screen movie theater, elevated lofts and 170,000-square-feet of stores and restaurants. Developers have asked the town for $6 million to $7 million to pay for parking, street improvements and waived development fees.
Thompson said his trust of the developers is running thin. Besides questioning how a town with 25,000 residents could support a 12-screen theater, Thompson said he wants to know what retailers it could fetch.
"Will they bring in a Wal-Mart and payday loan store?" Thompson asked. "In general, most developers have retailers lined up, but who do these guys have?"
Developers expect the project to attract medium and high-end merchants like Scottsdale-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, they said.
But to Thompson, the consequences of the large-scale project are not being weighed enough.
"Many of my neighbors aren't even aware of the magnitude of this project or the impact it will have on all of our lives," he said. "There are a number of questions regarding this mega-mall project that have not been addressed."
Meanwhile, residents like Fountain Hills Councilman Keith McMahan have grown intolerant of the town's vacant business district. While developers have mulled building in the area, their concepts never came to fruition.
McMahan said now is the time.
"This is a critical thing," he said. "I think it's a good project, and I'm tired of seeing piles of dirt."
Former Mayor Sharon Morgan said Fountain Hills "desperately" needs commercial development.
Morgan, who championed the creation of the town's Target near Saguaro Drive and Shea Boulevard in 2000, said sales tax dollars are a must for the town, which has no primary property tax.
"I'm a firm believer, as I was when we battled to get the Target center," said Morgan, who called the project a "win-win" situation.
"We need to get sales tax dollars coming in," she said. "And what we have now is a wonderful replica of the dust bowl."
Morgan's view on the requested incentives from the town is, "You don't get something for nothing."
"There's going to be naysayers no matter what you do, but I think the positives far outweigh the negatives in this," Morgan said. "I think this is our last and only chance of getting a beautiful downtown."