Before a development project gets off the ground in Oro Valley, it must get approval from the citizen-led Development Review Board.
Now, the Oro Valley Town Council plans to consider suspending the board — along with the Finance and Bond Committee and Public Art Review Commission — with the intention of redefining DRB's mission. If passed, an item on the Sept. 1 council agenda would set in motion the reforms.
The proposal has raised concerns among some residents who think the changes would diminish public input in the development process, and subject municipal employees to political pressure.
"I think it's astounding that people want to talk about eliminating the board," said Michael Schoeppach, chairman of the Oro Valley Development Review Board.
Schoeppach said to eliminate the DRB would leave most development decisions to be made administratively, with little meaningful input from residents.
Mayor Satish Hiremath said the idea that the council wants to cut out residents from the development process is overblown.
"Even without the DRB, there's eight points of public participation in the development process," Hiremath said.
Town code requires proposed developments to seek approval through numerous boards. Depending upon the type of development proposed, an applicant could return to the town for approvals several times over the course of a building project. Many of those returns would be before the DRB and council.
Schoeppach doubts the mayor's assessment that the public would still have extensive involvement in the process.
"That's nonsense," Schoppach said. "There's nothing in (town) code that requires that, and the mayor knows that, or should know that."
The code requires that the town hold two public meetings with neighbors of a proposed development to inform residents of the plans, and to field any concerns. Even though those meetings are mandated, Schoeppach says they wouldn't do much beyond providing the basics of a development plan.
"Projects are never in any final form when the meetings take place," he said. "The ability for citizens to influence the process late in the game is gone."
Councilman Steve Solomon, who has had extensive experience with the DRB as a homebuilder, was undecided on how he plans to vote, or what any changes would mean.
"We want the DRB to be a valuable asset to the town," Solomon said.
Solomon said in his experience, the board had made decisions that seemed inexplicable and not based on adherence to codes and regulations.
"There were times when it was a hindrance," Solomon said. "It's basically a crap shoot."
Even staunch advocates for continuation of the board recognize that decisions have in the past been made arbitrarily.
Schoeppach said he's communicated to town officials that he wants board members to receive additional training that would better define their responsibilities. He wrote Suzanne Smith, director of Oro Valley Development and Infrastructure Services, requesting a session with town staffers to that effect.
"I want board members to understand reasonably what they can and can't do," Schoeppach told The Explorer. He had not received a response to the request as of Monday.
Another reason Schoeppach wants the DRB preserved is to shield town employees from political pressure.
Currently, Oro Valley has perhaps 15 percent open land remaining for commercial or residential development.
"Now almost every development is in the context of neighborhoods," Schoeppach said.
He said the town council could pressure town planning officials to approve or deny projects based on public opinion.
"My concern is that decisions will be made by political considerations," Schoeppach said.
Reform plans for the DRB have changed over the months.
The original proposal called for the council to consider adopting one of four options that would progressively lessen the board's role. The final proposal would have eliminated the body, transferring its duties to town staffers.
The proposal on the Sept. 1 agenda would suspend the boards and relieve the members of their duties while town officials work to redefine the mission and guidelines of the advisory boards.
Hiremath requested the change to the item.
"The reason is there are two departments that are undergoing extensive revamping," Hiremath said in reference to consolidations of the planning and zoning with other departments and similar changes to parks and recreation.
He said the hiatus of board meetings would give town staffers and the council time to decide what responsibilities the DRB and the other boards would have.
"We have to figure out what it is we want the development review board to do," Hiremath said.
The mayor said any predictions for the future of development processes in the town are premature, but from his perspective, the changes are necessary.
"We've got to stop doing things just because the previous council set them into motion or just because it's always been done," Hiremath said. "We have to be deliberate."
OV council looks at $1.5M in RTA-funded work
After taking off the month of August, Oro Valley Town Council meetings resume Wednesday, Sept. 1, with a full agenda.
The council plans to consider four Regional Transportation Authority funded projects totaling more than $1.5 million for roadway improvements and environmental analysis.
An $873,000 project would fund construction of a multi-use path along the Cañada del Oro Wash from First Avenue to Steam Pump Village shopping center.
Another project would provide $420,000 to reconstruct barrier walls on the Rancho Vistoso Boulevard bridge that spans Big Wash.
The council also plans to vote on using $150,000 in RTA funds for the Calle Concordia Bike Lanes from Calle Buena Vista to Calle Loma Linda.
The final project is a proposal to study animal crossings possibilities along Tangerine Road between Interstate 10 and La Cañada Drive and along La Cholla Boulevard between Tangerine and Overton roads. The RTA has $74,000 allocated for the project.
All of the projects would be paid for with RTA dollars, not local funding.
The council meets at 6 p.m. at Oro Valley Town Hall, located at 11000 N. La Cañada Drive.