Oro Valley council voted unanimously on March 20 to direct staff to clean up ambiguous language relating to the town’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands (ESL) regulations.

The item was suggested for further examination by councilmembers Brendan Burns and Mary Snider following an application for a General Plan Amendment on the 110-acre parcel of Desert Springs, located on the east side of Tangerine and Oracle roads, adjacent to Catalina State Park.

In a December meeting, council voted for a continuance on the plan amendment, which, among other changes, would have allowed an increase in residential density in an area popular with wildlife and natural resources.

The ESL regulations are intended to guide the intensity and design of land development while reducing impact to sensitive natural resources, according to Planning Division Manager David Williams.

The inconsistencies identified in the ESL language had environmentalists and the Desert Springs property owner at odds as to whether, and at what point, ESL provisions should be applied during a General Plan Amendment.

“Environmentalists on one side believe the ESL should be applied, while the attorney for the applicant stated it should not apply until the rezoning stage,” explained Williams, who added that the ambiguous language could lead to legal trouble in the future. 

The property, which currently falls in Pima County, is likely to be annexed by Oro Valley at a future date. 

“I think it makes imminent sense to have consistency in land or zoning issues,” said Vice Mayor Lou Waters. “If we are going to annex something, it should be subject to the same codes as we’ve already established.

Council voted 6-0 in directing staff to clarify applicability provisions with regard to General Plan Amendments, rezonings, and other development applications, correct minor formatting inconsistencies, and clarify ESL requirements and review processes.

Williams estimated that between Planning and Zoning Commission meetings and public hearings, the code amendment would take three months to complete. 

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