The Oro Valley Town Council's handling of a proposed controversial development Sept. 19 left residents in the exclusive La Reserve area somewhat dazed and confused at first, but the bottom line was they got what they wanted, at least for the moment.
"What did they do, what did they do?" residents among the crowd of more than 100 attending the meeting could be heard murmuring after the council's vote.
Mayor Paul Loomis, who had just called for a break in the council's deliberations, quickly returned to the podium to explain.
The council voted 3 to 2, with Loomis and Vice Mayor Fran LaSala dissenting, to postpone action on a request for an amendment to the town's General Plan that would have advanced Canyon Del Oro Partners' bid to develop a combined 130-acre commercial-residential center on the east side of Oracle Road at First Avenue near Rooney Ranch.
The amendment sought would have applied to plans for 58 acres of "upscale" commercial development that include specialty shops and restaurants, a Walgreens, gas station and five-story hotel and changed uses of the property from commerce park and medium high residential development to community commercial.
As it stands, residents and the developer are being asked to work together on hammering out conditions for development that would be mutually acceptable as part of a Planned Area Development that would be presented to the council in the months ahead.
General Plan amendment approval then would be reviewed based on the conditions in that PAD.
The process is expected to take at least five months and will entail neighborhood meetings, two Planning and Zoning Commission reviews, review by the town's Design Review Board, and finally, town council review.
Prior to the vote, 14 people spoke on the issue. None were in support.
"I see no reason to amend the General Plan, especially not when it is to be reviewed next year and certainly not because a developer wishes it amended," Butch Farabee told the council during a public hearing.
"A General Plan is a moral contract between the people and their government and although not legally binding, it is not to be taken lightly.
"People do not choose to live here because a certain store is in the neighborhood, but rather for the panoramas, wildlife and high quality of life not plagued by clutter and commercialism," Farabee said.
"Except for the dollar, I do not understand why the town persists in competing with metro Tucson for business. There is nothing you can build in my back yard that I am not willing to travel a short distance for. To many of us, you are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
"Lastly, I worry about the constant use of the camouflage terms 'upscale' and 'high end,'" Farabee said.
"Not only is this a relative concept, but I fear they are being used to subtly mask an agenda for the developer to 'get a foot in the door' while attempting to mollify Oro Valley citizens as to the potential of serious impact. This is one citizen that resents that."
Others spoke out to challenge results of a survey the town said indicated resident support for the project.
"This could be no further from the truth," said Lisa Brown. 'The consensus of the residents of La Reserve is that we do not want the General Plan to be amended because we do not want the big box chains," she said.
"Staff implies that a diverse economic base can be achieved with another shopping center," said Charles Baker. He noted, though, that there are six existing shopping areas in the immediate area of the proposed site and two major centers under construction.
"Continued construction of shopping centers is creating a lack of diversity that could easily result in under-utilized floor space and a resulting blight," Baker argued.
In response to a question from LaSala, Planning and Zoning Administrator Bryant Nodine told the council that under the current General Plan, neither a Walgreens, gas station or five-story hotel would be allowed, but that there could be light industry, manufacturing and warehousing, with some retail support uses.
Big box stores, as well as a Walgreens and hotel would be allowed with the requested General Plan amendment, Nodine said, but those allowed uses could be strictly controlled under conditions imposed as part of any Planned Area Development proposal approved by the council.
LaSala warned residents that by continuing to say no to any proposed development for the site, they "could end up with something that is far worse than what is being proposed" because of what is allowed under the existing General Plan. He encouraged residents to "try and make it work."
Added Councilmember Dick Johnson: "Be constructive, be problem solvers. "We'll listen to you. But step back away from the misinformation that is out there and if you have questions or concerns, give us a call."
The council also postponed until Oct. 17 a request from Vistoso Partners for an amendment to the General Plan that would advance the construction of 89 homes on 60 acres in Neighborhood 11 of Rancho Vistoso currently restricted to open space.
The amendment was approved by the council on July 18, then two weeks later the council voted to reconsider its action at a Sept. 19 meeting.
Because the public wasn't given sufficient notice of the council's intent to hold a public hearing on Neighborhood 11, town staff recommended that the council delay a decision on the amendment change until Dec. 19 so the Planned Area Development proposal submitted by Vistoso Partners could be reviewed along with the General Plan amendment.
LaSala and Loomis both opposed this suggestion. The continuation until October was opposed by Councilmembers Johnson and Bart Rochman.
"There are no secrets here," LaSala said. "We know this issue better than anything we've studied in town. We've screwed around with this particular issue way too long. We've studied it and studied it and done nothing with it."
A number of conditions would be imposed that could lead to eventual town ownership in the Honey Bee Canyon area.
Citizens for Open Government had collected enough signatures to place the Neighborhood 11 issue before voters, but the group's petitions went no further than the town clerk's office. Town officials said the council's reconsideration made earlier approval of the General Plan amendment moot and in essence nullified that approval.
Also postponed until the Nov. 7 meeting was Vistoso Partners' request for a General Plan amendment in Neighborhood 12 where the construction of 116 single-family homes and 88 casitas is planned. The council in August reconsidered earlier approval of a General Plan amendment for this area. A preannexation agreement between the town and Vistoso Partners is scheduled for a referendum vote in the March 12 primary. A Planned Area Development proposal won't be processed until after the annexation vote since the Rancho Vistoso land is still in the county.
In other action, the council voted to appeal a Superior Court ruling denying the town a new trial after being told by the court that the town had exceeded its authority in refusing a preliminary plat for a 21 lot development in August 2000.
The town subsequently approved the plat sought by the Wong Family Limited Partnership for its development on nearly 78 acres adjacent to the east side of the Monte Del Oro subdivision south of Naranja Road, between La Canada Drive and First Avenue. However, last month the Wong Family filed a second lawsuit seeking damages from the town stemming from its refusal to approve the preliminary plat. The town's bid for a new trial was rejected, necessitating the appeal.