At its Nov. 4 meeting, the Oro Valley Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-1 to continue a rezoning change request that if approved, could allow a developer to level the natural hillsides of a property at First Avenue and Lambert Lane to make way for 160 single-family homes.

Don Cox, commission vice-chair, voted against continuing the case. Chairman Bill Moody was absent.

"How much topography are we going to sacrifice?" asked Pete Bistany, the newest commissioner. "The density is too high, the grading is too great and the destruction of topography is too much."

The devil in the details is that without the change, the property is currently hard-zoned for apartments, which a group of neighbors doesn't want.

"All of the neighbors have written in support of the change to single-family residences," said Susan Fry, who lives with her husband Don across the way from the proposed development. "We do not want mixed use, commercial or multi-family residences. We do not want town homes."

Fry, who spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting, said that she and her neighbors were in favor of the grading and filling, which the developer promised would not be visible from First Avenue.

"This is a down zone," said attorney Frank Bangs, representing the developer, Canada del Oro Partners. "We're reducing the existing PAD from a mixture of commercial, apartments and medium-density residential uses to a project that is predominantly lower density residential."

CDO Partners is seeking a PAD amendment to subdivide the proposed 76.5-acre parcel ("Area Z") from a 79.6-acre portion ("Area A") of the Rooney Ranch PAD, currently zoned for commercial and multi-family residences. The PAD now allows single-family homes in only 29.6 acres of Area A. The new Area Z would still retain about three acres for commercial use.

Town staff recommended denial, but offered six pages of conditions that could bring the new project into conformance with town planning and development goals.

At issue are threats to the parcel's natural topography of rolling desert terrain, steep slopes and prominent ridgelines. The developer has proposed cuts of up to 30 feet, plus grading of slopes greater than 25 percent.

"It's a requirement in the PAD that they can't cut even 15-percent slopes," said Craig Civalier, development review division manager for the town's public works department. "What they want to do with the amendment is to say forget about 15- or 25- percent slopes and just grade and cut where they think they need to in order to meet their design."

In addition, the developer seeks to use the removed soil to fill a floodplain along the CDO Wash on the property's southeastern border and build homes in that area.

By filling in the CDO Wash floodplain, the proposed development "may result in a velocity of floodwaters to downstream land areas which could wash out or spill over existing flood control facilities currently protecting those developments," wrote Susanna Montana, a planner with the town of Oro Valley.

"What we're concerned about is how it's going to impact downstream properties," Civalier said. "If you channelize all this, what's going to happen to the people who live between Overton and La Cholla? We need to know the upstream and downstream impacts."

Town staff would also like to see a means for vehicles to access the abutting Kai property to the north, which would better integrate traffic circulation in the area.

Resident Bill Adler said at the meeting that he supports single-family homes over apartments, but not on the proposed 5,000- to 7,000-square foot lots. He recommended amending the PAD in support of larger, lower-density custom lots, which would "harmonize with the natural contours, floodplains and slopes" so that "more of the land is respected."

The developer agreed to meet with staff to hammer out a compromise by Dec. 2 or the next regularly scheduled meeting of the commission.

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