Oro Valley's Town Council members may have understandably breathed a sigh of relief March 20 when only six out of 17 speakers stood up to oppose the town's latest annexation move.

At its previous meeting, during which another annexation was being discussed, two-thirds of the 15 speakers voiced opposition, most in harshly critical terms.

It wasn't that the majority of the more than 100 people in attendance this time around were in favor of the town's plan to annex nearly 655 acres bounded by the existing town limits on the north, Northern Avenue on the west, the North First Avenue alignment on the east and Suffolk Hills Drive on the south.

It was merely a case of residents taking more of a wait and see attitude before making their positions known.

Residents' primary concern seemed to be a traffic situation that keeps them from getting out of their neighborhoods in the Oracle-Magee roads area without having to cross three lanes of traffic on Oracle or being forced to make a right turn and go north before they can drive south.

"Solving the traffic situation is the paramount issue," and any approval of annexation would require a resolution of the problem," said Barry Sleight, one of seven residents to address the traffic issue.

Among the amenities residents were told they can expect if annexed are a combination full service town center and police substation at Oracle and Magee, an expansion of police services with the addition of six officers, an extension of Coyote Run bus services for the handicapped and elderly and road improvements to bring neighborhood streets up to the town's standards.

The area includes approximately 835 residential units with a population of 1,767 and 92 commercial businesses. The town estimates local and state-shared taxes will produce annual revenues of $1.465 million from the annexation and result in $819,605 in expenses. The annexation will require approval by 51 percent of the area's residents and 51 percent of property owners representing the area's total $62.3 million assessed valuation.

Katie Harris, one of the undecided, voiced concerns about any rental taxes the town might be passing on to tenants and the possibility that the town's more restrictive building codes may result in higher costs to residents.

Town officials replied that Oro Valley's tax on commercial leases was dropped about two years ago and that Pima County, the city of Tucson and Marana all have higher building permit fees.

Other residents had questions about impact fees on water and whether the town would take over roads that are the responsibility of homeowner associations. Town officials explained that impact fees will not be an issue because the area is made of established subdivisions being served by Tucson Water, although at some point the town might look to include these subdivisions in its service area if it can negotiate a reasonable price.

Public Works Director Bill Jansen explained that the town can take over streets from homeowner associations but they first have to meet reasonable standards. It is often difficult for the town to do so, he said, because they are frequently unable to deliver a marketable title.

The council also approved a recommendation of its Renewable Water Resources Task Force that the town focus its energies first on getting reclaimed water to Oro Valley by extending Tucson Water's reclaimed water system from an entry point at Thornydale Road just south of Tangerine Road rather than waiting for a regional plan for the delivery of Central Arizona Project water to be completed. Water Utility officials estimate the cost of a reclaimed water system at about $18 million. A CAP delivery system could cost up to $50 million and take years longer to complete.

The reclaimed water system also would enable the town to get area golf courses off ground water quicker.

A report to the council, however, stresses that the task force recommendation to focus on reclaimed water for now is only part of an overall solution to the town's water needs and that direct delivery of CAP water is also "vitally important" to the town's water future.

In November, Oro Valley and the city of Tucson reached a historic settlement of a 22-year water dispute by which Oro Valley gained access to an additional 4,454 acre feet of CAP water, supplementing its current 2,294 acre feet allocation, and the right to control all of the effluent it produces. An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre one foot deep.

Eventually, Oro Valley estimates it will need about 17,000 acre feet to meet its water needs.

In exchange, Oro Valley is paying Tucson $3.75 million to annul provisions of what is known as the Northwest Area Agreement negotiated in 1979 and compensate Tucson for damages it incurred for CAP water purchases and CAP water distribution system costs in behalf of Oro Valley. The town is paying an additional $1.66 million to Tucson to reimburse the city for all capital charges it paid to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District for the CAP water Oro Valley will get as a result of the settlement.

Councilman Bart Rochman said he had "a problem" with the decision establishing reclaimed water as a more immediate priority than the CAP, but was mollified when told this decision will have no impact on the town's schedule for getting CAP water.

In other action, the council approved an amendment to the town's zoning code allowing the approval time for a preliminary development plat to be extended for up to 24 months from six months. The action was taken in connection with the proposed $85 million, five-star Ritz-Carlton Resort being planned by Vestar-Athens Tucson LLC in Vistoso Partners' Rancho Vistoso development. The 320-room hotel, to be located on 37 acres of a 54.5 acre site, initially was scheduled for completion in 2003, but has been on hold for months for economic reasons and its preliminary plat approval time was about to expire.

A nearly $170,000 contract was awarded to Falcone Brothers and Associates Inc. for an expansion of the Oro Valley Police Department's existing parking lot northwest of the Police Department building to accommodate 50 vehicles. The contract will be supplemented by $37,624 from the town's contingency fund.

Mayor Paul Loomis also awarded certificates to 24 graduates of the town's Citizen Planning Institute, a 12-week, 32-hour course designed to educate participants in the town's planning processes.

Graduates in this year's largest class ever included Bob Svejcara of the Northwest EXPLORER.

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