Christina Vanoverbeke, CVanoverbeke@ExplorerNews.com
Citizen groups are both opposing and supporting the Oro Valley General Plan in the Nov. 8 election.
Members of one group believe the plan does not go far enough to protect the environment and said it does not trust the town's leadership. Members of the other think the plan is good and needs to be ratified before it costs the town more money.
Citizens for Responsive Government members have posted signs around town asking residents to vote no on the plan.
The political committee is led by Hector Conde who said he has a low opinion of how the town addresses ecology and the protection of the environment.
Conde is against one part of the plan, which describes intentions to make state owned land part of Oro Valley. He objects because he believes the land to the north of the town will eventually be developed.
Intentions to annex this land were not part of the general plan that was defeated by voters in 2003.
The state land includes a wildlife corridor that permits animals to pass from the Tortolita Mountains to the Santa Catalina Mountains.
The corridor is important to the desert's ecology, said Conde, who does not trust the town to protect it.
"I will oppose any tendency of the town to take jurisdiction of the area. We should let the county handle it. The town cannot protect it," Conde said.
It is not only the intent to annex the state land that angers Conde, but also is the way the change was made to the general plan to include the annexation that concerns him.
A revision committee of 11 citizens finished the plan in January. In February, the Planning and Zoning Commission added the intent to annex the land.
The revision committee appointed to change the plan did not know of the change, which Conde said is wrong.
The town asks residents to view the plan either on its Web site or at town hall. The information is posted so that residents can read the plan and cast an informed vote, town officials said. Conde said the state land information is not on the Web site.
"They're not telling the public what we were going to vote on. Are we trying to deceive the population?" he said.
The information can be found on page 48 of the online document, said Bob Kovitz, the town's community and government relations director. It is stated that, "The Town shall pursue annexation of the state land north and east of Sun City, and work with the State Land Department to create and adopt a conceptual development plan for the area."
Preserving Ironwood trees also is a priority of Conde's and he said the revised plan does not do enough to protect them.
The Ironwood protects other trees and various wildlife in the desert and is studied by biologists for its guardian characteristics, Conde said. The general plan protects other trees, such as the mesquite, by specifically identifying them for preservation, but does not do the same for Ironwoods.
"It's as if they have given landowners the ability to cut them down. The previous plan didn't mention the Ironwoods. This plan specifically put the Ironwoods in a nonprotective mode," he said.
The plan does state on page 98 that significant Ironwood stands should be protected, Kovitz said, as part of the habitat protection criteria.
Conde worked on an environmental protection ordinance committee for the town a few years ago. He wanted to protect the Ironwoods as part of that ordinance, but said the work never resulted in any protections before the committee was disbanded.
The opposition by Citizens for Responsive Government stems from battles fought by the now disbanded Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition, said Bill Adler, a former member of the coalition and also was a member of the general plan revisions committee.
A segment of residents in the past lost trust in the town's leaders because of decisions they made about growth and development.
"Many people thought the town had not been good stewards of the land. There were a lot of battles fought and there are still a lot of hard feelings. A lot of that is jeopardizing the general plan," he said.
Conde is a past president of the neighborhood coalition and still remembers those past battles.
The revised general plan addresses issues of growth and puts an emphasis on preservation, Adler said. It should be supported for those reasons, he said. The 2003 plan was opposed by a citizen's group, OV Beyond 2004, which was led by Adler. That plan put an emphasis on growth, he said, but the revised plan outlines ways to grow while still preserving the natural environment.
The plan does not have to be voted down because of minor adjustments to individual policies. Specific language in the plan can be addressed through plan amendments, as long as those changes go through the town's process and are OK'd each step of the way, Adler said.
The organized opposition to the plan is being met with organized support for it.
Citizens for Oro Valley's Future mailed flyers to the town's residents asking them to vote in favor of the general plan. They also intend to post signs and speak to groups about why they are in favor of the plan.
The group's members say a vote for the plan is a vote for the preservation of Oro Valley's future.
The main reason the committee is in favor of the plan is that its members believe the town needs to comply with the state law mandating a general plan by having theirs OK'd by voters, said Werner Wolff, the committee's treasurer.
"If we don't pass it, we're going to have to go back to the drawing board, at tremendous expense to the town," he said. The town is debating new taxes to address projected cash shortfalls and has been tied up in several costly court cases over the past few years. It does not need the expense of another go at the plan, Wolff said.
Group members were thinking about starting a pro-plan campaign, but were nudged to action when Conde's group formed in opposition, Wolff said.
The revised general plan is similar to the original plan except that several parts that were controversial in 2003 have been changed, Wolff said.
As examples, Wolff explained that mixed-use neighborhoods have been taken out of the plan. That concept was sharply opposed in 2003. Residents were concerned about mixing retail and homes in the same neighborhood, as well as with the possibility of more apartments being built in the town.
Any direct reference to property taxes also was taken out of the plan, which Wolff said makes the plan less controversial.