The final stages of a development at Ina and Silverbell roads which neighbors have fought for more than four years and the controversial Willow Ridge project at Cortaro Farms Road and Camino de Oeste were both approved by the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission March 31.

The commission's recommendation to the Marana Town Council to approve rezonings that would allow denser housing and small commercial developments for both projects brought disappointment to many of the neighbors who packed the hearing. The projects also prompted Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman David Parker, who voted against both rezonings, to question whether Marana was being led by developers.

"Looking at the agenda tonight, I'm getting to a place where I feel the developer's ideas are driving the future of Marana more than the town is planning for the future of Marana," Parker said to applause from the audience. "Developers are coming to the town and saying 'Here's what I want to do' and then we decide whether it's a good idea instead of the own leading the planning effort and looking forward."

In the matter of the Ina-Silverbell rezoning, developer Doug Kennedy is seeking to complete a residential and commercial project on the northwest corner that homeowners in neighboring Pima County adamantly opposed in 1999 and continued to object to at last week's hearing.

The rezoning approved by the commission would allow Kennedy to change the current zoning on about 14.5 acres from minimum residential lot sizes of 36,000 square feet to a minimum size of 10,000 square feet and add half an acre of commercial development.

The rezoning was approved by a 5-2 vote. Parker and Vice Chairman Russell Clanagan, the only two commissioners who were members of the planning and zoning commission when Kennedy's project was first considered four and a half years ago, voted against the rezoning.

Neighbors who told the Marana Town Council Nov. 16, 1999 that Kennedy's development was too dense and incompatible with the mostly one-acre lots that would abut the project now claim Kennedy reneged on a deal to develop the property at lesser densities.

"In the worst case scenario there has been deceit," said Mike Lee, a Pima County resident who helped draft the compromise to reduce the project in 1999.

Kennedy told the commission that the neighbors were angling for 36,000 square-foot lots and that while there had been an agreement with the neighbors, it was never signed by them.

"I think this is a fabulous development," Kennedy told the commission. "I don't think there's any agreement I've reached with any of the neighbors out there … my recollection was that they refused to sign it. The town council wisely took all the conditions and they're in the agreement today."

Lee responded that while the agreement wasn't signed, the neighbors "maybe naively" thought the agreement was valid and would be enforced by the town. Lee also said he believed an addendum to the agreement developed by the residents was now missing.

Known as the Jersey Properties development in 1999, the council unanimously approved rezoning for the proposed subdivision only after reducing its size by about 40 percent, securing donation of 25 acres for a park from Kennedy, and placing nine conditions on the project.

The 1999 rezoning allowed 225 homes for the project. Kennedy's planning consultant Mike Grassinger told the commission last week that 160 have been built and 65 more could be built under the previous rezoning, but the new plan called for only 41 additional homes and more open space.

Residents March 31 raised concerns that included a provision that would allow building in previously agreed upon open space, businesses allow to be open 24-hours on the commercial parcel, increased traffic, disturbances to the Yuma Mine Wash that may increase drainage problems in the area and the diminishment of their views.

In 1999, Councilmember Mike Reuwsaat, now Marana's town manager, praised the agreement negotiated by the neighbors, Kennedy and the town.

"The extent of the public comment and the level of compromise has just been unbelievable," Reuwsaat said at the time. "It just doesn't occur in other jurisdictions at this level."

The commission's 6-1 vote to approve a rezoning for 103 acres of desert for the Willow Ridge project on the south side of Cortaro divided neighbors between those who support the project because it brings the promise of widening Cortaro and other neighbors who feel the development is inappropriate for an area that consists of mostly large-lot horse properties and open desert.

Environmentalists claim the rezoning will destroy a unique stand of ironwood forest, interfere with wildlife corridors and further threaten the endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

The commission's recommendation would allow zoning to be changed from residential lot sizes of 144,000 square feet to lots sized at a minimum 6,000 square feet on 60 acres of the project. The development include 34 acres of 16,000 square-foot lots and nine acres of commercial property.

The Marana Town Council voted unanimously March 16 to annex 319 acres north and south of Cortaro Farms Road and east and west of Camino de Oeste that includes the proposed Willow Ridge development.

Developers Mike Carlier and Raul Pina plan to extend Camino de Oeste south of Cortaro to Pima Farms Road and build about 215 homes on land they own south of Cortaro.

The developers, Marana and Pima County are considering a plan that would share the estimated $10 million cost of widening Cortaro east of Interstate 10. The developers have promised more than $2.2 million in donations and impact fees for the transportation improvements and for purchasing open space, the developers' planning consultant, Ron Asta, told the commission.

The developers' initial plans brought out crowds of residents to a public hearing on the annexation before the council Dec. 16 and the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity has threatened to sue to stop the project.

Marana Town Attorney Frank Cassidy said in an interview after last week's meeting that the town has not received further communications from the Center for Biological Diversity, but Defenders of Wildlife, another environmental group, faxed a protest to the commission less than two hours before the start of the hearing.

In a copy of the letter obtained from the town, Jenny Neeley, Southwest Associate for Defenders of Wildlife, claimed rezoning Willow Ridge would conflict with environmental plans developed by Pima County and the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and be in opposition to Marana's own proposed habitat conservation plan.

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