A Superior Court judge ruled July 6 in favor of maintaining Marana's annexation of more than 300 acres near Camino de Oeste.
Plaintiffs Leon Drake, Jeanell Evans, Neil McHugh and Richard Hummer filed the suit, which claimed Marana had not followed the necessary procedural requirements when annexing the area. The specific statutes that Marana had not directly complied with included filing the annexation to the Board of Supervisor's clerk and submitting on time to the county recorder an affidavit that ensures two municipalities aren't trying to annex the same property.
In a summary judgment - a court decision without a trial because the facts are not disputed - Superior Court Judge Richard Fields found, even with the two deviations from statutory procedure, the town of Marana was in substantial compliance with the necessary requirements. As a result, the town's annexation will stand.
While Marana did not follow the exact procedure of all statutes, the judge ruled it complied with the intent of those statutes. The purpose of filing with the board's clerk is to ensure the county is aware of the annexation. However, in Marana's case, it had worked with the county prior to the annexation, so the county was aware of the situation, Marana Town Attorney Frank Cassidy said.
With respect to submitting the affidavit late, this action establishes only one municipality is trying to annex a certain area of land. Cassidy said in the case of Camino de Oeste, there are no other nearby municipalities, which makes meeting this statute merely a technicality.
"So, the court basically said, if that's the only thing that Marana even arguably did wrong, then the annexation is valid because they've substantially complied, because, even with respect to those requirements, they complied with the intent," Cassidy said.
A plaintiff in the lawsuit, Neil McHugh, declined to comment on the case because of a pending appeal. In a Dec. 16, 2003 town council meeting several citizens, including the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, voiced concerns that the annexation would disrupt the rural setting of the area. Several property owners within the area also had issues with the increased traffic that would come with the annexation.
"We disagree with the court's finding that Marana substantially complied with state law in their effort to annex the Camino de Oeste property," the plaintiffs' attorney, Paul Gattone, said. "It is our belief that there were many, many deficiencies in the process and enough that would lead a court to rule that there was not substantial compliance."
Further, Gattone said the plaintiffs' arguments, such as whether Marana adequately posted notice to property owners about the annexation, differ enough from defendants' to warrant a trial as opposed to a summary judgment.
In his ruling, Judge Fields found Marana did give residents adequate notice of the annexation; however, Gattone said the plaintiffs still would move forward with the appeal. He said the case involves not only the plaintiffs, but also others who are interested in preserving this open space.
In addition to the annexation, the town also has rezoned 100 acres of the area to allow for the Willow Ridge development. Just under two-thirds of that area, 60.8 acres, has been rezoned to allow one house per 6,000 square feet and 34 acres has been rezoned to allow one house per 16,000 square feet. The entire area had previously been zoned for one home per 144,000 square feet.
The development of Willow Ridge will provide $700,000 that will go toward widening Cortaro Farms Road, Cassidy said.
While the Superior Court has ruled in favor of Marana's annexation, the voters will decide on Sept. 7 if the rezoning will remain. Both factors are necessary to widen Cortaro Farms Road, Cassidy said.
On June 24, the Marana Town Council approved the voter referendum after those opposed to the annexation and rezoning gathered enough petitions to refer the rezoning to Marana voters.
"We need both the annexation and the rezoning to do the road improvements," he said. "Without both steps, we will not have sufficient funding to build those road improvements."