Jan. 12, 2005 - A new community of 16 homes, on spacious lots, has been making its way through the development hoops in Oro Valley relatively smoothly, with some council members saying it is just the type of development they would like to see more of in the town.

The Uplands, to be built on Lambert Lane, next to the West Lambert Lane Park, made it over another hurdle at the Jan. 5 council meeting when its application to pay a $33,000 fee to the town, in lieu of building a community park, was passed unanimously by the council.

But the council action raised an issue as to whether such a fee is a good idea when it comes to the future of Oro Valley development.

Resident Bill Adler, also a member of the town's Development Review Board, asked the council to reconsider a section of the code that allows developers to apply for in lieu fees, such as the one OK'd for the Uplands.

He said the fees are not in line with one of the goals of the town, which is to have enough parks and recreation spaces. Quality parks are an indicator of a quality community, something Oro Valley is and strives to be, he said.

"The residents of Oro Valley have said repeatedly that people want more neighborhood parks so kids can play safely, off the streets," Adler said, in an interview following the Jan. 5 meeting, where he addressed the council on the issue.

The code in question was developed in the mid-1990s by the Planning and Zoning Commission as a way to ensure there would be places in Oro Valley for its children to play. For every 85 housing units built in a development, the town requires builders to dedicate one acre to recreational space.

Adler was a commissioner at the time the code was developed and helped to write it. He said it worked well at first because communities were being built with 100-plus homes all over the town, and each of those communities included a park. But, as the town has approached build out, smaller developments, such as the Uplands, have come before the council, and many of them have applied for Option 2 of the code.

That option allows for smaller developments, those with fewer than 85 homes, or developments that are next door to existing parks, to ask the council to pay a fee, instead of constructing a recreation area.

Adler said he doesn't fault the builders for applying for the fee, because it is their right, according to the code, but said he has always opposed the fees because the amount of money collected is often not enough to purchase equipment for a small "tot lot," let alone purchase new park land in Oro Valley.

He said any fee collected that would be enough to actually make a noticeable difference in the parks system in Oro Valley would be too large for developers to agree to, and that is why he believes the whole fee system should be pitched.

He said it does not keep with " the nature of the code," which is to provide recreational space.

"It's a real charade," said Adler, of the in- lieu fees. "I believe the public has been misled for years."

That is because, he said, the intent of the code is to collect money "to aid in the development of parks and facilities," however, two of the town's park spaces, the West Lambert Lane Park and the Naranja Town Site, are currently undeveloped and the money collected to date has not been collected in one fund to use specifically for parks.

The town's director of finance, David Andrews, said while the money collected from in lieu fees is accounted for as its own line item in the general fund, the fees are not earmarked to be used specifically for parks.

"That money could be inadvertently used to move the maintenance yard or something," Adler said. The code, however, specifically states that the fees should go toward purchasing land for parks and recreation areas or developing existing parks.

Councilmember Terry Parish said while the town does not have "nearly enough room for kids" it is at the same time difficult to ask developers to give up land when they are in the business of building houses. He said the issues raised by Adler deserve attention.

"This is a serious problem with our code, and it's something we should address," he said.

Councilmember Paula Abbott agreed, and asked that the issue be addressed at a future council meeting.

Mayor Paul Loomis said there was a lot of discussion before the code was created to try to come up with something with which both builders and the town could agree upon.

"While it's not the most wonderful thing, ultimately, it will be able to add something (to the parks)," he said.

Many of the neighborhood "pocket parks," the small recreation areas dotting many communities in Oro Valley, are left unused and abandoned, Loomis added.

In other business:

€ The town announced the awarding of a $443,248 matching grant from the Arizona Department of Commerce to Ventana Medical Systems to help provide training in the areas of environmental health and safety, lean manufacturing, research and development to the 394 individuals employed by the Oro Valley-based company. State Senator Toni Hellon, R-26 and State Representative Pete Herschberger, R-26, attended the meeting to join with the state and town in presenting the grant to Ventana representatives.

The town's economic development director, Jeff Weir, announced the grant, saying that it will help people with the company keep their jobs.

"The heart of the ability for businesses to stay competitive is to have employees be well-trained and remain well trained," he said.

€ The council unanimously elected Barry Gillaspie as the vice mayor, to serve a one year term. Paula Abbott has filled the position for the last six months.

€ The council appointed Councilmember Conny Culver to serve as the council's appointee to help select members for the town's historic commission.

In nominating her for the job, Councilmember Helen Dankwerth said Culver was very familiar with how these commissions are run elsewhere and also is very familiar with the various historic projects within the town.

In a subsequent action, the council elected to add a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to that interview committee, on a 4-3 vote, with Culver, Dankwerth and Loomis opposed.

When an enabling ordinance was passed at a Dec. 15 meeting, establishing a three person interview panel, which did not include a parks board member, some PRAB members said they felt they had been cut out of the process.

Culver, who requested parks be removed from the process just prior to the Dec. 15 meeting, said she was concerned that including a member would put the council in conflict with its own policies, which state that volunteers already on a town board or commission cannot participate in another.

Councilmembers Terry Parish and Barry Gillaspie said PRAB member's unhappiness with the Dec. 15 decision was brought to their attention just following that meeting and "we moved fairly quickly to rectify the situation," Parish said.

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