Faced with the impossible task of endorsing a new General Plan in time to present it to voters in May, the Oro Valley Town Council is now on a course that would delay a General Plan election for another six months.

The course now being set toward a November election was established following a public hearing at which 30 people spoke during a special session of the council Jan. 6.

The vast majority of those addressing the council among a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 spoke out against a cornucopia of issues ranging from proposed revisions in General Plan policies to changes in land uses. Only three residents spoke in support of the direction the General Plan appears to be headed.

Until that meeting, the General Plan was scheduled to be presented to voters for ratification in May. For that to have happened, the council would have had to approve the General Plan by Jan. 15, said Bryant Nodine, planning and zoning administrator.

In the wake of resident opposition, however, the council agreed to hold a "marathon series" of four study sessions in an attempt to address residents' concerns.

The study sessions are scheduled for Jan. 21, Jan. 27, Feb. 6 and Feb. 27. All would begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Town Hall council chambers, 11000 N. La Canada Drive. At least one public hearing would follow these sessions. It would be the third public hearing before the council. No date has been set.

In the summer of 2001, the council, despite misgivings by Mayor Paul Loomis and others that the date was "extremely optimistic," established a November 2002 deadline for presenting the General Plan to voters after approval by the council in July.

Subsequently, town planners requested and received the council's OK to move the election date up to March of this year.

Under requirements of Arizona's Growing Smarter and Growing Smarter Plus legislation passed in 1998 and amended in 2000, the town had to approve a General Plan and schedule an election by Dec. 31, 2002. There was no specific requirement that the plan be ratified by voters in 2002, only that the election take place "within a reasonable time” after Dec. 31, 2002.

Further revisions in Growing Smarter legislation led to the town's second postponement of a General Plan to May of this year. Under these revisions the town had until the end of this year to hold an election but planners indicated they wouldn't need the extra time beyond May. With the third postponement to November of this year looming, it now appears they just may.

Typical of residents' opposition to proposed General Plan revisions were the comments of Richard Feinberg, a member of the town's Development Review Board. After noting several actions by the council in recent months to increase densities for residential development and clear the way for controversial commercial development, Feinberg told the council:

"Regardless of what is recommended by your staff, outside consultants, boards, commissions, a steering committee and by expressions of public opinion, you five councilmembers feel you can approve whatever you think is the right thing to do for the town. The fact is that since June 2000 developers have proposed eight General Plan amendments and zoning changes and of the eight, the Town Council has approved seven for higher density residential development (Feinberg later corrected himself, saying five of seven plan amendments were increased to remained the same).

"The record clearly shows that the council's past performance is one that supports higher densities in Oro Valley," Feinberg said. "It seems to me the council should be more interested in supporting the rights of the thousands of landowners who live in Oro Valley. Those landowners, by the way they're called homeowners, want low-density development and open space.

"So the question is whether you will repeat your past performance of continually approving higher densities or are you now ready to accept the recommendations of your (General Plan) steering committee and allow citizens who voted for you to see you do the right thing for them."

In doing so, Feinberg said, the council would be "sending a message to the folks in the areas you hope to annex that you have listened to the voice of your citizens and your steering committee and acted in their behalf."

Nancy Young, (no relation to Amphitheater Public Schools Boardmember Nancy Young Wright) another opponent of proposed General Plan changes, also pointed to recent actions by the council that she said are beginning to produce a "growing sense of mistrust in Oro Valley's governance and intentions for the future."

"There is a fear the council is interested more in representing the special interests of the few large landowners and developers rather than the majority," she said.

In Oro Valley, "planning is the dream and zoning is the reality," said Christina Meyers, another critic who spoke of a growing distrust of government.

Carl Kuehn decried the numerous requests being made by developers and landowners for land use changes that are making the General Plan a "moving target."

"As long as this plan is a moving target and as long as you don't have the collective will to say gentlemen, put your pencils down, … we can't make an informed judgment of the value of the plan," Kuehn said. "And that really worries me because there's been a bait and switch history here where you name a committee, involve the citizens, form steering committees and do the opposite of what they recommend.

"If you have these steering committees and you involve the citizens and you're not going to pay attention to them, why have them in the first place," he asked.

Bill Adler, vice chairman on the Board of Adjustment, questioned policies that he said make the General Plan more of a guide to shape the town's future rather than a statement of policy for development and criticized the council for a history of nonenforcement of the town's zoning codes.

Dolores Anderson, one of the council's few supporters at the meeting, said she didn't think the criticism the council was hearing truly reflected the view of the town's citizenry as a whole. "I think overall the process is working," she said.

Among the General Plan issues confronting the council are the introduction of a new mixed use neighborhood designation, charges of watered down policies, policies that would give developers density credits for unbuildable land and deletions to the plan that would jeopardize the preservation of open space.

The mixed-use neighborhood designation, which would allow a clustering of various residential and commercial uses, is an item of particular concern because of the potential for densities of from five to 15 units per acre.

During council discussions of a potential General Plan election postponement, Mayor Paul Loomis asked whether the town could implement a new General Plan once the council approved it even though no election had been held. He was told by Acting Town Attorney Tobin Sidles that the plan would have to be ratified by voters before it could be enacted. Until then, the town would have to follow the existing General Plan but could resubmit a new plan every year at significant cost until voters did ratify a plan.

Responding to the criticism it was receiving, councilmembers said they resented the innuendos that they were favoring developers in their actions.

"There are a lot of assumptions of foregone actions," said Vice Mayor Dick Johnson. "This review process is one in which we're just gathering information. We are going to work hard on this and we won't send it to voters until it's well wrung out," he said.

"We're listening to the people, getting all the input we can," said Councilmember Bart Rochman. "We don't want to bring anything forward that won't pass. Keep watching. I think you'll see a product we can all be proud of."

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