Vistoso Partners has withdrawn its request to have Neighborhood 12 of its Rancho Vistoso development annexed into Oro Valley and is turning instead to Pima County to approve its development plans.

A referendum aimed at blocking Oro Valley's annexation of Neighborhood 12, scheduled to come before voters on March 12, has stalled Vistoso Partners' plans to build 199 homes, including 88 casitas, on 360 acres in the area.

Vistoso Partners is now turning to the county to accelerate the process.

"The property is already zoned and we can build houses on it in Pima County," said Vistoso Partners General Manager Dick Maes. "We're not going to keep waiting and waiting on Oro Valley. Why should we wait until an election to find out what we can do with our property? If Oro Valley doesn't want us, we'll go to the county. We're just following up on what our rights are."

Maes blamed Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition leaders Wayne Bryant, a potential mayoral candidate, and Hector Conde, who also heads Citizens for Open Government, initiators of the referendum, for forcing Vistoso Partners to turn to the county because of their threats of a referendum or recall every time a decision is made by the council with which they disagree.

Maes said Vistoso Partners has no problem with Oro Valley and is confident that it can educate residents as to the benefits of development, but that it cannot function if it has to wait for an election every time to decide whether it can go ahead with its plans.

"Five hundred people, representing 10 percent of the voters in the last election, have spoken for the whole town and stopped this whole process," Maes said, "It's a sad story."

Maes said he didn't think Citizens for Open Government would succeed in the upcoming election, but that Vistoso doesn't want to be at the beck and call of those who pose the threat of a referendum or recall every time Vistoso Partners turns around.

"I feel sorry for the way the town's going," Maes said. "But if people don't want us, we'll go this other way."

Maes said discussions of the possibility of going to the county began about a month ago and that the county asked Vistoso to withdraw its request for annexation into Oro Valley. He said development plans would remain as proposed to the Oro Valley Town Council and that Vistoso Partners would continue to negotiate with Oro Valley on the conditions it is seeking for development approval.

Coalition member and Citizens for Open Government leader Conde said the two groups are not necessarily against annexation per se, but are opposed to this pre-annexation agreement between Oro Valley and Vistoso Partners because a completely different set of rules was applied that the groups didn't like.

"There was no reason for that," Conde said. "They ought to go by the rules set for everyone else. But I suppose there is nothing we can do if they go to the county."

Bryant could not be reached for comment.

How Vistoso's request will affect the referendum is still being determined by the town, said Town Manger Chuck Sweet.

Under the preannextion agreement, Oro Valley was required to approve the annexation of Neighborhood 12 as well as amendments to General Plan and Planned Area Development proposals by Dec. 15 to avoid having to pay Vistoso Partners $500,000 for two reservoir sites totaling 1.6 acres that would have served both Neighborhood 11 and 12.

Despite the Oro Valley Town Council's subsequent approval of General Plan amendments for Neighborhood 12, the March election date made the Dec. 15 deadline impossible to meet. All development plans related to Neighborhood 12 are being delayed until after the election.

Conde said he is waiting for Oro Valley to decide what effect Vistoso Partners' decision will have on the scheduled referendum, but assumed that in due time the town will probably decide there is no reason for a referendum now and that in a year or two Vistoso Partners simply will try again for an annexation since Neighborhood 12 is the only Rancho Vistoso parcel not in Oro Valley.

Councilmember Dick Johnson said he was disappointed with Vistoso Partners' decision since Oro Valley would have had more control over Neighborhood 12 development had it remained in the town and also enjoyed a revenue stream from the project.

Johnson said that he understood Vistoso Partners' desire to pursue other avenues faced with the referendums and recalls that so often make it more difficult to do things in Oro Valley.

Citizens for Open Government also received enough petitions to place Vistoso Partners' plans to build 89 homes on 60 acres of what is now zoned for open space in Neighborhood 11 on the ballot after the town council approved a General Plan amendment for the area, but that move was made moot when the council voted Aug. 1 to reconsider that approval.

On Nov. 7, the town council postponed requests by Vistoso Partners for amendments to a General Plan to weigh the developer's Planned Area Development proposals against concessions Vistoso would be willing to make to get the amendments. The council is not expected to review Neighborhood 11 again until January.

The council is seeking a number of considerations from Vistoso in exchange for its development approval, both in neighborhoods 11 and 12.

Those that Vistoso Partners has tentatively agreed to include:

Dedicating Honey Bee Canyon Park to the town.

Purchasing 125 acres of the former ITC site in the north portion of Neighborhood 12 and dedicating that to the town along with 65 acres to the northeast of Neighborhood 11.

Dedicating an acceptable site for a reservoir in Neighborhood 11 and providing reservoir sites not already in place to serve both neighborhoods.

Conditions still being negotiated include:

Having Vistoso Partners pay more for the ground water the town pumps on its golf courses.

Providing sufficient funds to build a trail system starting at a two-acre trailhead near the southwest portion of Neighborhood 11 and connecting, via northern Honey Bee Wash, to Honey Bee Canyon Park, and dedicating any land within its property necessary for a trail system.

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