Thursday, May 7, 2015

Peters Cautions: What Has Been Agreed At The General Plan Level Can Be Undone At The Zoning Level

The following is a text of "public hearing" remarks by resident Diane Peters presented at last night's Oro Valley Town Council hearing on the general plan amendment we discussed Monday and yesterday. We present it for two reasons. First, because it demonstrates what the community can do when it works together. Second, because it cautions all that the process of insuring that agreements are met requires citizen diligence. You can watch Diane's remarks.
For the past 9 months, I’ve been leading a citizens group associated with this general plan amendment…Citizen Advocates of the Oro Valley General Plan. We organized because, to quote one member, “They don’t just want to amend the General Plan…they want to gut it.”

Our initial goal was to advocate for the current [2005] General Plan…no changes. However, not long after organizing, we learned that most general plan amendments are approved and most likely the best that we could hope for would be to work with the applicant on creating a list of conditions to be attached to any approval and that became our new goal.

Before I go on, I would like to thank [Oro Valley resident] Bill Adler, who despite recent health problems, offered to be our advisor, at times advising us from a hospital bed. He explained the strategy we needed to take in order to be successful and we are eternally grateful.

I’d also like to thank Council Members Zinkin, Garner, and Burns for their contributions. Especially Mike Zinkin who facilitated our meetings with the applicant and contacted me about this project every week since September. Additionally, whenever there was an impasse between our group and the applicant, Council Members Zinkin, Garner, and Burns would meet with the applicant on our behalf.

Our citizens group consists of approximately 30 people with a core Group of 8. We’ve attended every Neighborhood Meeting Planning and Zoning Hearing, and Council Meeting addressing these general plan amendments. We also held four private negotiations meetings with Paul Oland and James Kai. James, by the way, is the most well-mannered person I’ve ever met. Each meeting ran 2 to 2.5 hours and one meeting lasted 4 hours.

Personally, I’ve put in a minimum of 4 hours per day on this project since August. This involved numerous phone calls, e-mails, and meetings with the applicant, town staff, and Council Members Zinkin, Garner, and Burns. I ‘ve written and responded to over 2000 e-mails. With the help of group members, we researched the General Plan, Land Use Designations, the Zoning Code, and Plat Maps for surrounding neighborhoods.

I’m telling you this so you will understand not only my dedication to this project but also the dedication of all the members of our group who have committed to this project for 9 long months.

Some of the highlights of the residential conditions agreed to are:
  • Senior care facilities were removed from the plan. 
  • The number of homes was reduced from 778 to 500. 
  • Single-story homes only in the first 300’ of the southern portion. 
  • A 200’ natural buffer on the west side with single story homes only in the first 100’ beyond that.
The following commercial conditions were also agreed upon:
  • No convenience stores. 
  • No liquor sales as a primary business. 
  • No guns/ammo sales as a primary business. No crematoriums. No automotive service centers, gas stations, or car washes. 
  • No medical marijuana dispensaries.
There’s more but I’ll stop there because I need to discuss the process.

In the first few months after we organized, we were summarily dismissed by both the Town and the Applicant on numerous occasions. E-mails were ignored and our questions were not answered during the Neighborhood Meetings even though we submitted them in advance.

The only concession the applicant made in the first 3 months was to allow only 1-story homes on the western and southern edge of the property. They also removed apartments during that time, but they did that for their benefit, not ours. Despite our group submitting 13 reasons why apartments were not appropriate for this area, they did not remove them until a report came back stating that apartments were not in market demand.

Neither the Applicant nor the Town Staff took us seriously until after the December 10th council meeting when these general plan amendments did not pass as they had expected. The reason they didn’t pass was because I had worked out a deal with Council Members Zinkin, Garner, and Burns to either reject the amendments or to vote for a continuance with the caveat that the applicant had to conduct further negotiations with us. Only then were we taken seriously. We met 4 times since then and created the list of conditions that I stated earlier.

However, we still have the following concerns:

A paragraph in the Staff Report states…

"Staff would caution that many of the Special Area Policies… have a high likelihood of resulting in unintended consequences and it is anticipated that amendments to these policies will be necessary over the course of the development of this project."

This statement implies that ANY condition agreed to by the applicant and our citizens group can be modified (and possibly even removed?) at a later date.

Even if the Council approves these policies tonight, the developer can always try to get them amended at a later date with a 4-vote Council decision. Apparently, everything we accomplished in 9 months can be undone by 4 members of the council in one evening.

In other words, the past 9 months of my life have been nothing but a Dog and Pony Show, a staged presentation to convince us that our opinions mattered and were respected.

Bill Adler once said, “The end result should be development that improves the town while also being respectful to the surrounding neighbors.” How is it being respectful to us when you can renege on our agreements at any time?

In fact, one of our agreements was already removed.

We agreed on a condition that a triangle island would be installed where the new development exits onto LaCholla. This would prevent motorists from crossing directly over to Canada Hills Drive, a private road. The new special area policy states, “The alignment of roads and traffic control methods are entirely subject to Town Engineer approval.” As such, we now have no guarantee that this amendment won’t adversely impact a portion of the community (Canada Hills) and this is one of the general plan criteria that must be met.

Council Member [Mary] Snider has often said that the General Plan is a guide, it’s not law.

I’d like to remind the council that the general plan is the only voter-approved document we have and as such, it should carry enormous weight.

And Mayor Hiremath agrees with me on that point. Here’s what he said when he ran for mayor in 2014: "Oro Valley has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in updating and ratifying its General Plan….The Town should…follow and consistently apply it. The General Plan represents the will of the people, and needs to be a critical part of deliberation over fiscal, cultural, and economic requirements."

No comments: