The Oro Valley Town Council has dismissed nearly a dozen objections and 16 protests from property owners opposing their participation in an Oracle Road Improvement District to finance more than $7 million in road work along North Oracle Road between East Pusch View Lane and North First Avenue.

At a special council session Sept.15, property owners comprising 49.2 percent of the district voiced opposition to paying for improvements they said would provide no direct benefit to their businesses.

Opposition from owners representing more than 50 percent of the linear feet of street frontage in the district would have been enough to stall or quash the district, which by law cities are allowed to create if the public improvements provide a direct local benefit to the property owner.

Opponents also argued that the delineation of the district's boundaries ought to be broadened to spread the costs even further since whatever benefits they would derive from the work also would be derived by businesses outside those boundaries and the Oro Valley population as a whole.

The opponents included representatives of Fry's, Home Depot, Target, Burger King, Big O Tire Stores, Pizza Hut, BrakeMax Car Care Centers, University Medical Center, Lincoln National Life Insurance, owners of an apartment complex, and K. S. Real Estate Investors LLC, owners of an office complex.

No objection was filed by Cañada Del Oro Partners, developers of the 60-acre Oro Valley Town Center, east of Oracle between Pusch View and First, who have been assessed $2 million as their share for improvements. The assessment is only on 45 of the 60 acres deemed developable.

After nearly three and a half hours of discussion during which every objection to the improvement district was overruled by the council, town staff was directed to draw up plans and specifications necessary to putting the proposed improvements out to bid.

Those improvements, on which construction is scheduled to begin next March, include:

€ Widening Oracle from four to six lanes.

€ Widening a section of First Avenue from two to four lanes.

€ Widening a section of Pusch View from two to four lanes.

€ Creating northbound double left turn lanes at First Avenue, northbound double left turn lanes at Pusch View and eastbound double left turn lanes and double right turn lanes at First Avenue.

€Creating eastbound double left turn lanes and a right turn lane at Pusch View as well as a westbound left turn lane, a right turn lane and a single through lane at Pusch View.

€Realigning and installing a traffic signal at the entrance to the Oro Valley Retail Center.

By statute, objections to the district had to be based on a claim that the improvements provided no benefit to the property owner or that another property owner who also benefited was not included in the district and should have been, explained Scott Ruby, the town's contracted bond attorney. Simple protests had no such limitations.

The council avoided dealing with any comments regarding the amount of the assessments. Individual assessments are to be addressed at a council hearing after all improvements have been made and accepted by the council. Adjustments to assessment estimates already sent to property owners are likely to be based on credits for improvements already made, and corrections based on the proportion of actual lineal feet of street frontage covered by the assessments, Ruby said.

The improvement district grew out of plans by the Barclay Group about four years ago for commercial development in Rooney Ranch. As conditions for development laid out by the town and the Arizona Department of Transportation, improvements to Oracle, First Avenue and Pusch View were required because of the additional traffic the development would generate on Oracle Road.

Last year ADOT reported daily traffic volumes on state Route 77/Oracle Road ranged from 10,000 vehicles a day north of Oracle Junction to nearly 60,000 north of Ina Road and projected that by 2025 traffic volumes will soar to nearly 80,000 vehicles a day north of Ina Road.

Over the past five years there have been nearly 5,000 motor vehicle crashes on Oracle, including 109 involving pedestrians or bicyclists, according to an ADOT report.

The Barclay Group raised concerns about the cost of the road improvements and eventually an agreement was reached to phase the work, then spread the cost among property owners with the town's creation of the improvement district about two years ago.

Outside the district, the ADOT plans to widen Oracle to six lanes between East Calle Concordia and Pusch View and between East La Reserve Drive and East Tangerine Road at a cost of $10 million. Work is scheduled to begin in 2005.

The town also is widening First Avenue from two to four lanes from the Cañada del Oro Wash to Tangerine Road and building a bridge over the river, and extending Pusch View over the Cañada del Oro to Lambert Lane at a total cost of $18 million.

Another $7.2 million will be spent by the town to widen West Lambert Lane to four lanes from two between First and Rancho Sonora Drive. The work is scheduled to begin with the construction of the bridge in December or January of this year.

In objecting to the benefits the improvement district would provide, Paul Wolf, an attorney with the Fennemore Craig law firm representing Lincoln National Life, told the council that the improvements would neither add tenants or value to Lincoln's apartment complex.

Town officials argued that the complex would benefit by an easing of access to the complex

"Oracle could be eight lanes wide and my client still wouldn't benefit," Wolf argued, adding that if ease of access was a criteria for being assessed for the improvements then every business up Oracle to SaddleBrooke should be paying.

"I can't imagine a more compelling case for arguing we receive no special benefits," Wolf said, urging the council to include in the district all areas that are part of the town's master plan for the area, of which the improvement district would be the hub.

G. Lawrence Schubart, an attorney representing Home Depot, argued that it was improper for the town to burden only property owners in the district and illogical for the town to argue the general public wouldn't benefit from the improvements. By its approach, the town is precluding any use of general fund money and overburdening the district to finance the improvements, he said, adding to the views of other objectors who felt the district's boundaries were much too narrow.

Councilmember Paula Abbott was the only council member to object to more than one of the objection overrulings, voting against the council's actions in response to objections made by Home Depot, M.T. Oracle LLC, Target, Pizza Hut, Brake Max and UMC.

Abbott raised concerns about the time given to property owners to respond and arguments made by some that other parties who would benefit from the improvements weren't being assessed.

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