July 12, 2006 - Marana's town council last week voted unanimously to rezone 26 acres near Continental Reserve for 200 condominiums, despite protests from neighbors.

The plan's critics worried the new development would increase traffic and noise near their homes, as well as block their panoramic views of the region's mountains.

DESCO Southwest plans to build 20 buildings with 10 units each at the southwest corner of Silverbell Road and Continental Reserve Loop.

During a 50-minute public hearing on July 5, four people spoke against the Villas at Sombrero Peak, including Marana Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Russell Clanagan. He opposed the rezoning on May 31, when the planning commission recommended it for approval with a 3-2 vote.

"I live just up the street from the development," Clanagan said. "I voted against it. In my capacity on the (planning and zoning commission), I saw neighbors very opposed to it."

Aside from the developer's representative, council members and town staff, no one spoke in favor of the DESCO project.

However, the town received 34 letters from the project's proponents and just 19 from protestors. One man even wrote twice, changing his mind to support the development after attending the meeting at town hall.

Speaking on behalf of the developer, Michael Racy noted that the Continental Reserve Homeowner's Association by an "overwhelming majority" wanted the property zoned residential, rather than all commercial. Racy also lobbies state lawmakers on behalf of the town.

The project will retain 8 acres of commercial land.

"We'd like to have a couple of sit-down restaurants, salons, launders, maybe a deli," DESCO Associate James Hardman said.

DESCO has yet to contact any potential tenants, he added.

Residents received "veiled threats" if they opposed the zoning change, they would "be stuck with all commercial," Continental Ranch HOA President Bob Mackle said.

"There is nothing to be gained from condos," Mackle said, adding businesses would bring the town more tax dollars.

Of the dozens of neighbors he talked to, only one opposed the project, he added.

"There have been no veiled threats," Racy responded. "There have been no threats at all."

Town councilwoman Patti Comerford defended the rezoning before the council approved the measure.

"I want you to know that we've read all your letters, pro and con," she told neighbors packing the council chambers. "The people up here really have your best interests at heart."

Comerford recommended approval of the rezoning, changing the maximum building height to 30 feet, down from 34.

"That gives you four more feet of view," she said.

DESCO originally planned to build an apartment complex on the property. The project now calls for owner-occupied condos, Racy emphasized. HOA dues would compare to those paid in Continental Reserve, he said.

"Apparently, a lower-life form lives in apartment complexes," he said, mentioning complaints about rental units lobbed by nearby residents.

In some letters received by the town, Continental Reserve residents threatened to sell their homes if the council voted to rezone the property.

Gordon and Cheryl Bentler bought their home in 2003, building a patio and landscaping the yard appropriately to accommodate their views of the Tortolita and Catalina mountains.

"If these units are built, we will be selling our house as I see others are already attempting to do," the Bentleys wrote in a letter to the Marana Planning Department. "We originally believed (Continental Reserve) was a place we would like to retire, but with multi-dwelling structures at 34 feet high within 300 feet of our house, our plans will definitely change."

The Villas at Sombrero Peak represents one of the town's most hotly-contested and extensively-studied projects in recent years, Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said.

He called the council's decision a downzoning, adding that nearby residents would experience 50-percent less traffic with condos than with a large commercial center.

The market currently couldn't support another shopping center in that area, which already includes a Safeway and Fry's, Reuwsaat said.

"I understand not everybody is going to happy with us," he said, adding that the town needs housing options for all kinds of people.

"That's one of the things this area is missing," Reuwsaat said. "There is a lack of diversity in residents."

The condos will work perfectly for young professionals or older folks who can no longer tend to a yard, Racy added.

The town council last week also approved a specific plan for 60 acres at the northwest corner of Tangerine and Thornydale roads, where a developer plans to build a 107-unit gated residential community and a retail and office center.

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