Council OKs Arroyo Grande amendment - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Council OKs Arroyo Grande amendment

Abbott votes against plan, claims developers will have their way in future

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Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 12:00 am

Oro Valley leaders took another step toward annexing Arroyo Grande last Wednesday when the town council approved amending the town’s general plan to include changes designed for future development there.

Last week’s vote paves the way for annexation negotiations between the town and the Arizona State Land Department to begin.

Arroyo Grande is 14-square-mile state holding north of the town.

State officials requested the general plan amendment as part of the now two-year-old process that both parties intend to culminate with the incorporation of the property into Oro Valley.

The town council approved the amendment 6-to-1, with Councilwoman Paula Abbott opposed.

Before issuing her no vote, Abbott told the council and nearly 200 audience members that she could not support the changes because she thinks wording of the amendment and an accompanying set of special policies were weakened through negotiations with the state.

“What once was a document with teeth has become a toothless document,” Abbott said.

The councilwoman warned that developers in the future would use the amendment as a precedent to flout town zoning rules. Abbott also noted that the annexation contract for Arroyo Grande, the next step in the annexation process, would likely be flawed as a result of the general plan amendment.

“To me, it’s a precursor to a weak document in the future,” Abbot said.

Many townspeople at the meeting shared similar views as Abbott, at least 16 of whom called for the council to deny the amendment.

Before casting his vote in favor of the plan, Councilman Barry Gillaspie cautioned some audience members against the long-term ramifications of not passing the amendment and working toward annexation.

“By asking us not to plan for development that will occur there, you’re asking your government to be incompetent,” Gillaspie said.

The councilman told townspeople that Arroyo Grande would see development someday in the future even if Oro Valley halts annexation plans.

With the area under the control of the town, Gillaspie said, Oro Valley could control what kind of development occurs and create a buffer from outside development.

In Pinal County, government leaders are rewriting their comprehensive plan, a document similar to a general plan.

Draft land-use maps show the county has plans for residential developments from the county’s southern reaches along Oracle Road well north of Oracle Junction. Eventually, developments could fill the landscape from the county line north for nearly 10 miles.

Oro Valley leaders want to have a cushion between the town and the impending developments in the neighboring county.

The plan passed last Wednesday includes provisions to secure future water resources, perform traffic studies and maintain a wildlife corridor that would allow animals to pass between the Tortolita and Santa Catalina mountain ranges.

Town zoning officials intend to begin working on details of the annexation deal soon and finish the work by June.

Arroyo Grande myths and realities

At last Wednesday’s town council meeting, numerous residents voiced concerns about the possible annexation of a 14-square-mile section of the Arizona State Land Department’s holding called Arroyo Grande.

While many of the concerns are legitimate, some of the claims conflict with reality.

The following are some of the inaccurate claims repeated at last week’s meeting.

Claim: Development will go forward without long-term planning for water resources.

Reality: According to conditions included in special plan area policies of the general plan amendment, developers must conduct water studies before approval of building plans. Further, town officials have set a condition that developers must secure water supplies for the area before building can take place. Under the rules, real water, not offsets in the form of credits or groundwater recharge in other locations, must be secured. Water could come from various sources including additional Central Arizona Project water rights, trades from other government agencies, securing water from agriculture, trades with Indian nations or effluent trades.

Claim: The impact on wildlife future development will have has not been considered especially regarding the wildlife corridor as identified in Northern Arizona University Professor Paul Beier’s study on wildlife linkages.

Reality: The impact on wildlife has been discussed numerous times throughout the planning process. In fact, after Beier’s study, conducted for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, was released, town leaders and state land department officials changed the Arroyo Grande land-use map to include a kilometer-wide section for a wildlife corridor. Town officials even consulted with Beier during the planning process. He has since expressed support for the plan.

Claim: The annexation will cost the town and taxpayers too much money and should be postponed or abandoned.

Reality: Annexation of Arroyo Grande holds the potential for a municipal financial boom. With residential impact fees in Oro Valley totaling nearly $14,000 per new home and nearly 16,000 homes estimated in the annexation area, the town stands to gain as much as $224 million in residential impact fees. That figure doesn’t include the potential windfall to town coffers from commercial impact fees nor does the estimate include the 2-percent construction materials sales tax the town charges.

Claim: Even though land-use maps label areas “natural open space,” no firm definition of the term has been set.

Reality: The state land department’s initial proposal did include an ill-defined version of open space that would have allowed residential construction, lot clustering and fenced-in properties to be called open space. Since then, however, open space has been defined as areas free of all development with the exception of utility easements and access roads. Public roads would have to be elevated to cross riparian areas and open spaces like the planned wildlife corridor. One lingering concern about open space, however, stems from a proposed Tucson Electric Power substation that would stand in the middle of the corridor and area labeled “natural open space.”

Claim: The state land department has approached Marana as a possible candidate to annex Arroyo Grande.

Reality: When asked about the claim, Arizona State Land Department representative Michelle Muench said the state had not discussed Arroyo Grande with Marana officials. “I am not aware of Marana approaching us to annex this area,” Muench said.

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