Oro Valley Town Council
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

Oro Valley Town Council was faced with a difficult decision last Wednesday when it considered allowing a modification to a conservation easement for an undeveloped residential lot located in the Sunridge II subdivision between Tangerine and Moore roads, east of La Cañada Drive.

Prior to reaching council, a majority vote by the Board of Adjustment approved a hillside development zone exception and variance that would allow for the applicant, Mike Arnold, to build into the 25 percent slopes that make up a portion of the property.

However, Arnold’s property is also subject to the town’s conservation easement ordinance (modernly known as the environmentally sensitive land ordinance), which in this case conflicts with the hillside development exception in that it does not allow for any alteration to sensitive natural land without council approving that modification.

Consequently, council was left with two options: either allow a modification to the conservation easement or reject a modification, meaning Arnold would need to redesign the home’s layout so it didn’t obstruct the easement. 

While no neighboring property owners refuted the fact Arnold was entitled to build on the lot, many shared their opinion on if, and how, the home should be allowed to encroach into the conservation easement.

John and Susan Rosenberg, who recently bought the home immediately west of the subject lot, supported an easement encroachment. Their decision to purchase the home was largely based on the Board of Adjustment’s vote in April to allow the hillside variance to occur. 

“We never would have bought this house if we didn’t feel like the setbacks would have made a difference for our views,” said Susan.

But where encroachment would help one residency, it would hurt another. 

For Heather and Lonnie Nenadovich – the neighbors to the east of Arnold’s lot – it would mean his home would look almost directly into their backyard. Arnold’s lot sits about 10 feet higher than the Nenadovich residence, meaning there would be some degree of privacy hindered whether the easement encroachment was permitted or not. The Nenadovich’s, who argued for a lesser degree of intrusion, consulted with an architect and engineering firm to find an alternative layout for Arnold’s home.

“They provide concrete affirmation that there is no reason that Mr. Arnold should require as much encroachment as he has proposed, based on their findings,” said Heather, whose husband, Lonnie stated they would not have purchased their home if they anticipated an easement modification.

For marketability purposes, Arnold designed the home layout to closely reflect the average square footage of other residencies in the neighborhood. If the easement modification had denied, Arnold said he would lose the lot space to build a home that size, and would make up for the lost square footage by building a guesthouse. That, however, would create another dilemma in that the guesthouse would sit about five feet off the property of northeast resident Scott Speder. 

Arnold argued there was no solution – whether building on the easement or not – that would appease each of the neighbor’s concerns.

“I wouldn’t have asked for this if I didn’t think it benefited me and the other people enough that I had a good chance of getting it, and I wouldn’t have gone through all this trouble,” said Arnold.

In a 4-3 vote, council supported the easement modification with Mayor Satish Hiremath, Vice Mayor Lou Waters and council members Mary Snider and Joe Hornat voting in favor.

Hiremath said the choice was the lesser of two evils in that it intruded into the easement in the most minimal fashion possible, while also addressing the majority of the concerns from neighboring residencies.

Council members Mike Zinkin, Bill Garner, and Brendan Burns voted against the modification.

Zinkin argued the modification was avoidable and in direct contrast to the town’s general plan.

Board of Adjustment Chairman Bill Adler was the lone dissenter to vote against allowing the hillside ordinance in the April board meeting. 

He criticized the fact the ordinance allows for slope intrusion under “reasonable cause,” which he argues is entirely subjective. 

In other news, council rejected the introduction of a U-Haul business to be operated out of the ACE Hardware store located in the Placito De Oro shopping center. The applicant, who had requested several continuances, failed to appear at the meeting. 

The measure was rejected 4-2 with one abstention.

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