During the April 4th Town Council meeting, the council voted 7-0 (no surprise there) to rezone 85 acres of pristine desert on the west side of LaCholla between Glover and Naranja from R1-20 (minimum 20,000 square foot lots with custom grading) to R1-7 (minimum 7,000 sf lots with mass grading) to accommodate 178 single-family homes, including 2-story homes.
For some history, this parcel had already been rezoned from R1-144 to R1-20 in 2007 and a development plan for just 74 one-story homes on lot sizes ranging from 1/3 acre to 1.5 acres was already approved by the Town Council in 2014.
Below, Mayor Hiremath explains his “rationale” for why 7,000 square foot residential lots are better than 20,000 sf lots.
Hiremath: "If you have 20,000 square foot lots, there is no capacity or requirement for the homeowner on those large lots to leave it natural desert. Somebody could landscape it, somebody could wall it."
My Rebuttal: So in order to prevent the highly unlikely possibility that a homeowner would mass grade or wall in his 20,000 sf property (approx. ½ acre) or his 43,560 sf property (1 acre), Mayor Hiremath voted to allow a developer to mass grade 52 acres of an 85 acre property that will be all walled in when the development is completed!
1 acre = 43,560 square feet x 52 acres = 2,265,120 square feet!!!
Read that again…Hiremath prefers that the developer mass grade 2.2 million square feet in order to prevent the unlikely possibility of one person mass grading 20,000 square feet. That’s absurd!
How many homeowner’s in Oro Valley have mass graded their 20,000 square foot lot? How many have mass graded their 1 acre lot, their 1.5 acre lot, or their 3 acre lot? The mayor provided no statistics for his claim. I’ve lived in Oro Valley for 15 years and I haven’t seen this anywhere, so just how common is this practice?
It’s far more likely that people who buy homes on large lots do so because they prefer to be surrounded by lush desert vegetation and wildlife and they don’t want a view of their neighbor’s home. So why would they mass grade their property?
Below, Mayor Hiremath tries to convince everyone that mountain views are not important.
Hiremath: "Does every house in the town of Oro Valley have a mountain view?"
Planning Administrator, Bayer Vella: No, but many do.
Hiremath: "So is any house construction going to block the actual view of the mountain? I mean, do people in Oro Valley buy a house, do [sic] every person in Oro Valley buy a house because of the mountain views or is it because they actually like to live in a community at the base of a mountain and they get to enjoy the mountain on their walks, their bike rides, when they go shopping, when they come out of Fry’s, when they come out of Target?"
This is a leading question. He is clearly telling Bayer what he wants him to say.
Bayer: I think it’s the latter. It’s the package. It’s not just any one box amongst a list of many.
My Rebuttal: Hiremath lives on a 1.7 acre hilltop lot with mountain views. Are we to believe that the hilltop location with panoramic mountain views didn’t factor into his decision to purchase that home?
All one has to do is peruse the Oro Valley real estate listings to see that any house with a mountain view is listed as such in the ad. Why would real estate agents bother mentioning the mountain views if no one is interested in homes with mountain views? Obviously, mountain views are a big selling point!
Follow the money trail
So what’s the real reason that Mayor Hiremath (and the rest of the council) voted to rezone this parcel down to 7,000 square foot lots to accommodate 178 cluster homes? Perhaps it’s because the players in this deal (see below list) have donated more than $20,000 to the election campaigns of all 7 current council members and to Yes on 454 in support of the mayor and council’s 2017 pet project, the Naranja Park Bond. Some of these donations are outlined below:
2014-2017 Greg Wexler (land broker, Wexler & Associates) donated a total of $14,410
2017 Jeff Grobstein, President, Meritage Homes, donated $5,000
2017 William Walker, Owner, WLB Engineering, donated $1,000
But wait! There’s more!
Other council members also offered absurd justifications to defend their votes to rezone that property for cluster homes. Their comments and my rebuttals will be featured in upcoming LOVE articles. Stay tuned.
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Diane Peters has lived in Oro Valley since 2003, moving here to escape the humidity of the East Coast. She’s been involved in OV politics and development issues since 2006. In 2014, she organized a citizens group, Citizen Advocates of the Oro Valley General Plan, who over a 9-month period, successfully negotiated a controversial 200-acre development project. In her past life, she worked in medical research at various University Hospitals in New England. Her interests include reading, writing, nature photography, travel, art galleries, museums, and politics.