Town tangles with developer
photo by Randy Metcalf, In a letter to Vestar executives, Town Manager David Andrews outlined a number of problems at the firm’s 850,000-square-foot Oro Valley Marketplace.

Oro Valley Town Manager David Andrews recently accused developers of a local shopping center of flouting building codes, overworking town employees and putting residents at risk.

In a July 23 letter to executives of the development company Vestar, Andrews criticized the firm for its conduct during the construction of Oro Valley Marketplace, the 850,000-square-foot shopping center at Oracle and Tangerine roads.

“We feel staff has really been pushed to the limits on these kind of things,” Andrews said last Friday, Aug. 1.

His letter lists at least eight major problems with Vestar, including operating without proper permits, working outside of time restrictions, breaking a 16-inch water line, delaying the Oracle Road widening and causing $440,000 in damages to a town water reservoir.

“We’re a bit disappointed with the method of communication the town has taken,” said David Malin, project manager of Oro Valley Marketplace.

The company and town officials have worked as a team since the project’s inception more than five years ago, Malin said. “Here we are at the 11th hour of many years of working with the town, and the new council chose this method of communication.”

Several contractors and sub-contractors work at the retail center, some on projects outside Vestar’s.

Still, Andrews said the Phoenix-based company should take “stewardship of the job site.”

For example, Andrews wrote that careless oversight by contractors using heavy equipment resulted in a water main rupture.

In his letter, the town manager said Vestar failed to request early enough for the water line to be marked with the blue stakes, a claim Malin disputes.

 “We did exactly what we were required do,” Malin said. “The blue staking was done improperly.”

The town used old, inaccurate maps to mark the water line, which led to the accident, Malin contended.

The broken pipe was shut off within 20 minutes, but not before the system lost an unknown volume of water, Andrews said.

The contractor paid for the repairs.

Another incident caused nearly $500,000 in damage to a town water reservoir, according to Andrews.

Poor drainage at the site caused water runoff to erode the reservoir’s foundation.

Oro Valley Water Utility crews had to flush the 160,000-gallon tank to make the needed repairs, according to the utility’s engineer David Ruiz.

Workers used jacks to lift and level the reservoir while fixing the structure’s weakened foundation. The system lost no water during the work.

Since then, Vestar has worked more closely with town officials to ensure similar accidents don’t happen again, Ruiz said.

The town’s insurance company will investigate the incident and later could decide whether to file a claim against Vestar and other contractors, Andrews said.

The development company’s erratic planning caused town employees to spend an “inordinate amount of time” trouble-shooting at the site, Andrews said.

Vestar frequently has changed its building plans, altered construction timelines and made too many requests for speedy plan reviews, the town manager said.

“This has been an unreasonable burden of staff resources as too often our employees have become de facto design staff for this project to help mitigate overall construction impacts to the public,” Andrews wrote in his letter to Vestar executives.

Malin blames the town’s complicated permitting process for some of the problems.

“Oro Valley code and ordinances are quite challenging,” Malin said. “They go over and above any other town in Arizona.”

Some problems are bound to occur at projects as large as the Oro Valley Marketplace, he added.

Also, in his letter to Vestar, Andrews claimed the company’s poor planning and engineering delayed the Arizona Department of Transportation widening of Oracle Road.

“That is not true,” Malin countered.

The Vestar executive said the company spent two years coordinating its work with ADOT.

The state agency wouldn’t attribute any delays of its project to Vestar or the construction at Oro Valley Marketplace, according to ADOT spokeswoman Linda Ritter. “We feel that we’ve had good communication with Vestar.”

Dust kicked up during the construction led many residents to complain, according to Andrews.

On many occasions, town employees and police warned contractors about the dust problems, he added.

Residents also complained that construction has extended after normal work hours and begun earlier than town code allows.

Although, Andrews noted, residents might have mistaken Vestar contractors for crews working on Oracle Road.

ADOT crews work through the night, finishing in the early morning. The marketplace contractors work normal daytime hours.

Malin said the company had not spoken directly with Andrews or other town staffers about the issues the town manager included in his letter.

“I have never received a call from Mr. Andrews prior to receiving that letter,” Malin said.

The town manager said company representatives have agreed to meet with Oro Valley officials this week to discuss the matter.

Marketplace development deal remains sore subject for some

The Oro Valley Town Council first approved an economic development agreement with Vestar to build a shopping center in April 2004.

The agreement paved the way for the town to share with the company 45 percent of the sales taxes generated at the future Oro Valley Marketplace. Vestar would receive $23.2 million.

At the time, former town Economic Development Administrator Jeff Weir estimated the shopping center would produce more than $3 billion in sales and $96 million in sales taxes over 20 years.

The council approved the deal with a 3-2 vote.

Only Mayor Paul Loomis and Councilwoman Paula Abbott, who still serve on the council, voted against the plan.

Shortly after, a group of citizens organized a drive to cancel the agreement and have the matter put to a public vote. The group, which went by the name Stop Oro Valley Outrageous Giveaways, succeeded.

The plan went to a vote in March 2006.

The tax-sharing pact, however, withstood the challenge, passing with 57 percent of the vote.

In January 2007, Vestar announced that a Wal-Mart Supercenter would anchor the 850,000-square-foot shopping center.

The news angered many residents, who felt Vestar misled the public with an advertising campaign leading up to the announcement of tenants.

Since then, the mere mention of the words “Vestar” or “Wal-Mart” sparks heated debates in some quarters of town.

Residents regularly bring up the hot-button issue at town council meetings.

Construction of the Oro Valley Marketplace began March 21, 2007. The first stores should open in September.

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