Dec. 1, 2004 - Even the javelinas that have their acorn dinner at town hall most evenings go home before the members of the Oro Valley General Plan Revisions Committee members on what have been described as marathon meeting nights.
The committee is two months into its task to make changes prescribed by the council to the plan and present those recommended revisions by the end of the year.
It is the council's hope that the document can be presented again to voters in November 2005.
Each week the revision committee meets at 6:30 p.m. and stays usually until 9 p.m. trying to revise the document that went down in defeat after almost 60 percent of voters said no to the plan, Nov. 4, 2003.
Some members are new to the town and have little familiarity with the history of the plan, while others played integral roles in its defeat.
While the committee has hotly debated several of the issues before it, the members have agreed that whatever the group decides, by way of a vote, will be supported by the entire group, regardless of personal beliefs.
The General Plan Update Revision Committee is made up of 11 Oro Valley representatives.
The committee was chosen by taking an appointment from each councilmember, one representative from the development community, one from the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce and two representatives of OV Beyond 2004, a political action committee that opposed the failed plan.
Because many of the members are working individuals or involved in other volunteer activities, committee members have been using long-distance teleconferencing and council approved proxy votes in order to participate in as many meetings as possible.
Brent Sinclair, the town's community development director, said the committee has been sticking to its schedule and systematically moving down the checklist of items the council asked the committee to consider revising.
"At this point, I am very encouraged with the work of the committee. We have a group with very diverse backgrounds," Sinclair said. "If we can get them to agree, we should be in good shape."
In deciding how the group would approach this task, the council agreed it did not want to trash the original document and start again from scratch.
Instead, Councilmember Barry Gillaspie sat down and drew upon all the feedback that was compiled after the General Plan failed and put together a "comprehensive list of the things that were contentious" to be examined by this new committee.
Members of groups such as OV Beyond 2004 also compiled reasons why they thought the plan failed and submitted those reasons to councilmembers. Other council members also weighed in with their ideas for issues that needed addressing during the revisions process.
Committee Member Carl "Tony" Kuehn, a representative of OV Beyond 2004, said it is a lot to do in a short amount of time, but that the meetings have been "very businesslike and the discussions have been quite frank and open."
"We're rolling up our sleeves to get this done," he said.
Kuhen said Sinclair has been the "journeyman" keeping the group on task and moving forward. So far, the group has met the deadlines outlined by the council.
Ed Taczanowsky, president of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and representing the development community on the committee, said he also believes the committee has been able to come to together on a majority of the issues and make continuous progress on the revisions.
He said that, when finished, he believes the committee will be recommending a more "middle of the road" document to the council.
"I don't believe people will overwhelmingly support this," he said, however, he believes enough people could support it to have it pass voter approval this time around.
"We need to dispel the notion the General Plan is weighted one way or the other," he said.
The group has been able to check off most of the language issues identified by the council as problematic with the most ease, taking out anything that was controversial in the proposed update and coming to agreement.
"The committee is made up of tremendously experienced people," Taczanowsky said, several of whom are town planners or former town planners.
Taczanowsky said he brings a fresh set of eyes to the plan, having not been involved in the update of the 1996 plan.
"Most of the issues seem to look like there was a lack of communication with interest groups in the town," he said.
He said many of the issues the committee was asked to revise have been "misunderstandings" or places where language needed clarified.
"That needs to be communicated to the public," he said.
The committee held an open house at town hall in mid-November where it invited residents to see what it has accomplished so far and ask any questions they might have.
At the meeting, the community also was asked to fill out forms that included areas to give feedback on each of the issues handled by the committee to date.
"That would provide the opportunity for anything new," Sinclair explained, because although the council gave the committee a list of things to do, it also is allowing the committee the freedom to examine and perhaps revise anything else.
Once through the checklist, Sinclair said the group will look at the community feedback, as well as anything different committee members may bring up before bringing the final revisions to the council.
During the open house, many of those in attendance approached committee members with questions about their own property, rezoning issues and concerns over specific development plans.
Sinclair said what is involved with the General Plan and other town policies often become confused in at least some of the public's minds. "We found that even during the election process," he said. "Some people were not even sure what the General Plan was."
He said that, at the beginning of the year, after the council has seen the final report from the revision committee, the town will begin a public outreach program that will not only update people, but also educate them about General Plans and the importance of having one in place.
Public outreach is being planned, according to Bob Kovitz, that will include media briefings, paid advertisements in newspapers, mailers and community meetings.
The committee also decided early in the process to schedule several open houses to invite the public to view its progress to date and give it feedback it can consider.
According to committee members, a lot of their task involves fine tuning language and cleaning up the document.
But there are some hot topics, that have sparked debate among the members.
To committee member Bill Adler, the revision of the General Plan is personal.
Adler led the organized voice of opposition against the plan with OV Beyond 2004. The members were successful with their mission with the November 2003 defeat of the proposed plan update.
Adler said because of that work, he is "somewhat responsible" for the failure of the town's General Plan.
"To some degree, I feel responsible for trying to fix it," he said. "I realize there are a lot of hard feelings about the failure of that plan." He said some people have even approached him in public questioning his intentions and calling him "a jerk."
But Adler has let most of that roll off his back. He said he has been, and remains, involved in the process because, in the end, he wants to have a plan in place that can be "consistently applied and followed" regardless of who sits on the council or the town's committees.
One of the areas of the defeated plan with which Adler strongly disagreed was designating certain areas of the town as "growth areas."
Adler argued that by creating growth areas, "you create two classes of citizens, those who live in the growth areas and those who don't."
He believes the term growth areas was one of the issues that led to the plan's defeat.
"The term 'growth areas' leads people to believe growth could be, or should be, accelerated," he said. "Should we have growth, yes, but quality and limited."
Committee Member Carl Boswell, appointed by Councilmember Barry Gillaspie, agreed with Adler.
"As an individual, you should have the same clout as any other individual. In these growth areas, you don't," Boswell said, because those areas have been set aside for growth.
But Melanie Larson, publisher of the Northwest EXPLORER, but representing the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce on the committee, disagreed during discussion at a November committee meeting, saying Oro Valley already is one of the "most difficult" towns in which to develop.
"I strongly suggest that we not cripple the ability of the community to move ahead," she said.
As per state statute, a mandate for the town in developing the new plan was to identify "growth areas," areas with adequate infrastructure in place to support growth.
The town identified five of those areas, which include commercial areas along Oracle Road, including parts of Rancho Vistoso, Rooney Ranch Center, Magee and Ina roads, plus the Foothills Mall and the intersection at La Cholla Boulevard and Tangerine Road.
Boswell proposed the committee delete the part of the plan that states all amendments to decrease intensity inside a growth area be major amendments, requiring two public hearings, two neighborhood meetings and at least a two-thirds vote by the council approving it. Amendments to increase the intensity inside those same areas by a minor amendment, requiring only one neighborhood meeting and council approval also is being recommended for removal from the plan.
Committee Member Don Chatfield, appointed by Mayor Paul Loomis, agreed with Larson on the issue, saying to change the use of major and minor amendments would mean, "a handful of nearby homeowners can whine about it and it will be overturned."
The growth areas will be changed in the committee's recommendation to the council after the committee voted 7-3 to change it, with Larson, Chatfield and Taczanowsky opposed and Teree Bergman abstaining from voting.
Using the term "mixed-use neighborhood" throughout the General Plan was another of the contested areas of the plan.
Taczanowsky said the term "mixed-use neighborhood" was misinterpreted before, in his opinion.
"We felt it was better just to delete it entirely," he said. "That way if one comes along, it can be approved on its merits, not just because it's an MUN."
Adler said his group was against putting mixed-use neighborhoods in the plan.
"There was no definition. People said, 'I don't trust it,'" he said. The committee also voted to establish an ordinance that defines the term as part of the Strategic Implementation Program, a document that compliments the General Plan and implements the policies laid out therein.
Chet Oldakowski attended the committee's open house and said he thought it was a good start to getting the word out to the community.
"I looked around and saw a lot of meaningful, thoughtful discussion taking place," he said of the forum that had about 30 people in attendance throughout the night.
Oldakowski also was interested on the discussion of mixed-use neighborhoods, one of the main controversies of the defeated plan.
He said he has seen areas where such neighborhoods work and does not think such development possibilities need to be eliminated, rather they need to be well-planned.
"I'm probably going against the stream on this one," he said.
The committee also has voted unanimously to remove all references to property taxes included in the plan and return to using the word "shall" instead of "may." The committee decided "shall" gave the document more power and that the General Plan is a document that the town council now, and councils in the future, should try to closely follow, as it is approved by the voters as a vision for the future of their community.
Once the committee has completed its work, the document will go to the council for its approval. After that, the council-revised document should go to the Planning and Zoning Commission and back to the town council for review, according to a process outlined by Director of Development Services Bryant Nodine in a council communication. The review period is 60 days. Two commission public hearings should be scheduled in two separate locations. Then the council should schedule a hearing. After the plan has gone through that public process, only then can the council vote to adopt it and declare an election. The staff has suggested that the General Plan should not be on the same ballot as a town council election, based on the experiences of two other communities that did not have their plans ratified by the electorate.
A General Plan is required to be in place by Arizona law, and the state law also requires zoning to be in conformance with a General Plan. Cities and towns must update general plans as a result of state enacted Growing Smarter legislation in 1998 and 2000 that established a set of new requirements for the preparation and adoptions of new plans.
The planning area in Oro Valley includes its 33-square-mile incorporated area plus another 44 square miles that extend south to Ina Road, west to Shannon Road, east to include Catalina State Park and a portion of Coronado National Forest, and north to the Pinal County border.
There are about 3,000 more housing units in the proposed plan than in the 1996 plan, for a total of about 30,000 units. The new plan also adds 30 percent more policies overall, many related to open space preservation, transportation and water resources.