Nov. 10, 2004 - Development in the desert of north Marana has once again put a group of citizens at odds with the town council, as a neighborhood coalition has threatened to override the council's decision to rezone 230 acres south of Moore Road and west of Thornydale Road.

The action taken by the Marana Town Council could be subject to voter approval if members of the committee Citizens For Responsible Growth In Marana and the developer Cottonwood Properties cannot reach a compromise.

Marana residents could then decide whether the rezoning will remain in effect. The council approved the Tortolita Vistas Specific Plan at a July 20 meeting, which would allow for the development of 400 homes on a swath of land previously zoned for 70 homes.

At the meeting, Marana residents Doug McVie and Carol Phelan-Smith expressed concerns about the effect of the development on the surrounding community and environment. The council listened to their arguments, then voted unanimously in favor of the rezoning. However, that decision did not end the issue. Kevin McHugh, secretary of Citizen's For Responsible Growth In Marana, said Marana residents approached the committee and asked for assistance in carrying out a referendum to overturn the council's action.

The committee has filed its application and gathered the necessary signatures to move forward with the referendum, said Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson. According to the referendum petition's certification, the Pima County recorder verified the signatures Sept. 10. The next step will be the town council to set a date for the vote either in the March or May election.

McHugh said the issue could be resolved without a referendum if Cottonwood Properties and the community group can agree to a development with fewer houses.

"Should the developer do one of these developments that meets with community approval it would be an awfully big advance," McHugh said.

Members on both sides seemed reluctant to speak openly about the referendum. Cottonwood Properties Vice President Bill Hallinan declined to comment, and said in a telephone message that, at this point in the negotiations, open discussion would be inappropriate. The spokesperson of the neighborhood coalition that reacted against the initial rezoning, Christina McVie, did not return several phone calls seeking comment. McVie and McHugh are co-founders of Desert Watch, an environmental group that has involved itself in several development battles in the Northwest.

McHugh said the community members did not have a problem with some development on the property; it was mainly the scope of the current development. He said many residents would be willing to agree to a lower number of houses on the property. Early negotiations between Cottonwood Properties and the community coalition had been successful, with discussions of lowering the number of homes built on the property from 400 to 167, McHugh said.

If both sides can agree to a number, the developer would bring a new proposal for the Tortolita Vistas Specific Plan to be subject to council approval. Should this happen a voter referendum would be avoided, McHugh said.

"This may never go to referendum," McHugh said. If a compromise can be reached, Citizens For Responsible Growth also would have to contact the 31 Marana residents who signed the petition for referendum to ensure their agreement.

McHugh said when Cottonwood Properties owner David Mehl discussed the Tortolita Vistas project with community members he was willing to address their concerns.

Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said he was aware of the referendum. The reason the town allowed 400 homes on the property was because the town could allow the developer to build on up to 40 percent of the land, leaving 60 percent as open space, Reuwsaat said.

McHugh said two factors led to the community's attempt at a referendum for the Tortolita Vistas project: the size of the development and the lack of communication with the community before the development moved forward.

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