Petitions that could put a large-scale development near Oracle on the November 2002 ballot have been validated by the Pinal County Elections Department.

However, the battle is still far from over.

The signatures could be declared null and void if the owner of the property wins a lawsuit filed against Pinal County.

Alex Argueta, president of the Remington Group, the company that would develop the property, and Elaine Helzer, one of the founders of the pro-development group Pinal Citizens for Positive Growth and Development, filed the lawsuit July 24 on behalf of the property owner Anam Inc. The lawsuit claims the county violated an Arizona statute that requires 30 days for petition signatures to be submitted to the county.

"We believe there were illegalities in the turning in of the signatures," Helzer said. "Other than that, I don't want to get into it."

According to A.R.S. 19-142, the Pinal Citizens for Sustainable Communities, the group that organized the petition signing efforts, had 30 calendar days from the date the ordinance was passed or from the date the minutes from the meeting were approved, whichever came first, to obtain the required amount of valid signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. The rezoning ordinance that would allow the 8,516 home development to proceed was passed in the Pinal County Board of Supervisors meeting May 16. The minutes were approved May 30.

"It all depends on how you interpret it," said William McLean, Pinal County civil deputy. "It depends on whether adequate materials were provided."

Mary Ellen "Kaz" Kazda said she did not receive the necessary materials to start petition-signing efforts until May 31.

"The ordinances were not available to us on the 16th," she said. "Nothing was available.

"We were told the director of elections (Gilbert Hoyos) and the county attorney had to 'get it right,'" she said. Kazda said the group received the ordinances May 31. PCSC turned in the signatures to the county July 2 and the Pinal County Elections Department validated the signatures July 19.

Helzer said the issue is simply a matter of law.

"We're looking for lawful ways to approach the whole thing," Helzer said.

Argueta, said the development, located on 4,600 acres about 27 miles north of Tucson, would be built using "green" building techniques, such as blending roads and buildings into the natural environment and using water harvesting techniques to conserve water. Argueta also said the development would provide long-term employment to the residents of Oracle, San Manuel and Mammoth, an area that has been economically depressed since the closing of the BHP copper mine in 1999.

"We hope this (development) will become a trend," he said. "We regret that the only choice left for us is to pursue litigation."

Laura Dean-Lytle, Pinal County recorder, said the county did nothing wrong.

"The elections department would not have accepted the signatures if they were not valid," she said. "There's some distinction there."

"The county attorney said they had that amount of time," said Stanley Griffis, Pinal County manager.

Kazda said the lawsuit is ridiculous and simply a last-ditch effort by supporters of the development to get their way.

"They are attempting to do with legal technicalities what they couldn't do before," said Frank Pearson, Kazda's husband.

If the signatures are determined to be invalid, the rezoning ordinance for the development would be put into effect, allowing construction to begin, without voter approval.

"Whatever the court tells us is what we'll do," Griffis said.

"I would assume the court will order that there is no referendum and the ordinance granting the rezoning will be valid," McLean said. "I would also assume (PCSC) will appeal. We're going for the long haul."

Kazda said she does have intentions of intervening as much as possible.

"We are certainly reading it over," she said. "Whatever we need to do to protect our rights, we stand ready to do it."

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