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Q&AZ: How Do People Build Their Houses On Phoenix Mountains And Hillsides?

In flat Phoenix, houses built on hillsides naturally draw the eye.

“Every time my sister visits from Indiana, she asks how people who build large homes on the sides of our mountains came to own that property,” said KJZZ listener Mary Phares through Q&AZ.

After the completion of the Roosevelt Dam in 1911, the federal government divided the Valley into a grid — using the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) — and started selling lots to homesteaders and other private citizens.

“They’re basically big squares,” said Christopher DePerro, who works for Phoenix’s planning and development department. “That is how a lot of the land was sold: from D.C., unseen.”

Many developers and homesteaders didn’t know what to except when they arrived in the desert.

“It might turn out that you got a great square that had a canal that went by and you could farm it,” DePerro said. “Other people found out they ended up with a hill.”

Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer at KJZZ from 2015 to 2019.