May 25, 2005 - The Oro Valley Town Council took steps toward annexing the La Cholla Airpark at its May 18 meeting, approving a preannexation agreement and zoning changes to help the small airport fit into the community.

La Cholla Airpark is a private airport on nearly 1,000 acres, with about 90 homes built around the airstrip, just northwest of Oro Valley.

The airpark was established in the early 1970s by a group of aviation enthusiasts, was incorporated in 1972, and has since attracted pilots from across Tucson and the world.

The council approved proceeding with the annexation at its Feb. 16 meeting, and according to state law, the town has one year from the time it files an annexation map with the Pima County Recorder's Office, after a 30-day waiting period and a public hearing, to collect signatures of more than one half of the area's property owners, who represent more than half of the area's assessed value, to complete the annexation.

The annexation of the airpark is being driven by the owners, who approached the town with the idea, according to Scott Nelson, the town's special projects coordinator. The preannexation agreement was approved 4-0, with council members Paula Abbott, Conny Culver and Helen Dankwerth absent.

Airpark representatives came to the town to discuss annexation because they believe if they don't do something now to keep the airpark intact, they won't have control of their future, Nelson said.

"Their intent is to preserve the lifestyle they currently have," he said. "By sitting down with the town staff, we are creating a win-win for the airpark and a win-win for the town."

One reason annexation is a win for the town is that, through the preannexation agreement approved at the May 18 meeting, Oro Valley will be allowed to use the airpark facilities at times when the public's safety is in danger. There is no other airpark within the Oro Valley town limits.

Nelson explained that situations such as the fires on Mt. Lemmon, various search and rescue efforts and homeland security issues after Sept. 11, 2001 are all part of the reason the town wants limited access to the airpark for use in emergencies.

In addition to planes, helicopters can land at the airpark, and a recently upgraded water system provides hydrants that can supply air tankers.

The annexation will be a win for the airpark because the town has agreed to make sure it remains a private airpark, and also because it will be able to continue to get water from Oro Valley.

Nelson explained that the town supplies water to the airpark today, through an agreement the airpark had with Rancho Vistoso Water Company.

But the Oro Valley water department also is doing an assessment of the airpark's water infrastructure, and may take over the maintenance of its pipes and fittings, although that is not part of the preannexation agreement.

In addition to the preannexation agreement, the town also created an overlay zone around the airpark that puts restrictions on any future development around the area.

Nelson explained the the "environ zone" is a result of a 1996 Pima Association of Governments study on all the airport facilities in the county coupled with the federal aviation standards for development around an airport.

Byrant Nodine, planning and zoning administrator, said four zones are laid out in the overlay, and were developed to "address the importance of the airpark, and at the same time to protect the health and safety of the people around it."

"We made a recommendation that environs (overlay) zones be put in place so that you didn't have so much encroachment that it shuts the airpark down," Nelson said.

"It's not to say that you can't develop in those areas, it just limits what type of development," Nelson said. "It's a public safety issue. You wouldn't want to put an elementary school at the end of a runaway," or any other development of high density, just in case there was an emergency landing or other airplane-related emergency in the future.

The overlay zone is divided into four parts, so building directly around the main runway and in the approach zone has different restrictions than building on land farther away from the runway in the "overflight area."

Nelson said the 1996 General Plan land use map shows the area that is the airpark with an oval drawn around it, in anticipation of an airpark environs zone.

"It's not really a new idea," he said.

The town also created a new zoning designation for the airpark to allow larger lots, airpark facilities, airplane hangers on the lots, and a restriction on commercial uses.

Nelson said the town did this because Oro Valley did not have a zoning that was close to what the airpark residents have now. So, instead of translating the current zoning to the closest Oro Valley zoning, per state law, and then having to place conditions on it to accommodate an airpark, it made sense to create a zone specific to the airpark.

While the zoning changes are not part of the preannexation agreement, Nelson said they "were a result of the discussion, and they made sense to address at this point," before the land is annexed.

In other business, the council approved the revised Oro Valley zoning code, which has been reformatted. The code governs all the building that takes place in the town.

Work on the code began in 1999 but was put on hold in September of 2000 so town staff members could amend several major sections, including the communication code, outdoor lighting, parking, landscape and commercial code, and so they could could create new graphics.

Community Development Director Brent Sinclair said the changes have "been a long time in coming" and include incorporating flowchart graphics that simplify the major steps in various processes and reordering the sections to appear in "a more logical sequence."

Other changes include developing a sub-table of contents for each chapter, providing an index for the entire code, eliminating conflicting requirements, revising sections that the staff identified as confusing or that had unclear wording.

Vice Mayor Barry Gillaspie thanked the staff for the work on the code said he "really likes the new look and feel" of it and hopes, in time, everyone will become familiar with the changes.

"It's a little bit more user-friendly," he said.

Loomis agreed, saying the changes "look really good."

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