Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Vistoso Trails Apartments To Proceed Despite Residents' Opposition

Fate Sealed Long Ago
In 2022, the town negotiated a deal to transform the former Vistoso Golf course into open space. In the process, then-town manager Mary Jacobs and Town Council Attorney Jonathan Rothschild negotiated a “settlement agreement” that would result in apartments being built on a small portion of that land. They argued that such an agreement was necessary for the 202 acres of open space to become a reality.

Resident opposition fails
The council approved the settlement agreement in a 2021 Executive Session. Residents were never informed of the deal. Two years later, just last week, many residents attended a public hearing. They voiced unanimous opposition to the apartments. With one council member's exception, their pleas were ignored. Apartments will be built.

Residents who live near the Vistoso Trails Reserve are "Collateral Damage"
As Oro Valley resident Chuck Davis noted at the meeting: "Almost everybody won… everybody except for the three or four hundred residents within about 500 feet of this property. We are the collateral damage.”  Indeed, Davis is right.  Former town manager Mary Jacobs and Town Council Attorney Jonathan Rothschild negotiated the deal on the Preserve. Their interests were not represented. 

The problem was that the deal to create the Reserve was complicated
There was urgency to get it done because there were lots of moving parts: Preserve Vistoso fundraising for the purchase, a town financial contribution for the purchase, the involvement of developer to assume ownership of the six acres under discussion, and the need to retain the interest and commitment of The Conservation Fund. 

and needed be be acted upon quickly
There was also urgency spurned on by the continuing possibility of large scale development of the entire former golf course. According to resident Rosa Daley, writing in LOVE: “When the over 200 acres of the closed Vistoso golf course drew developers like flies, the Winfield administration was able to swat them away and serve the residents who deserved to have the land remain recreational.” 

And that resident dissatisfaction was inevitable
The Council saw the agreement in a December 2021 Executive Session. They were given little time to assess it. Speaking to the residents at last week's meeting, Council Member Tim Bohen said that resident disapproval of the apartments was an inevitable consequence of the agreement. Regarding the negotiations:  Council members "...were never in the room. We were brought proposals and asked to vote in a majority for it." Our guess is that the council was told that this was the best deal for all.  And they bit.

Regarding the apartments, town staff interpretations rule
Bohen shares resident frustration that their pleas would go unheeded. "We represent you," he noted "but so much of what impacts you is decided by town administrator rulings that we have no control over. This might be a bitter experience, but hopefully, you'll gain a better understanding of how your town government truly operates. The town’s administrators wield a significant amount of authority, and it's not unwarranted for you to question how they employ it.”

In the End… Zoning rights trump the General Plan
There will be 132 apartments built on 8.7 acres,  The approval for these was a complicated deal last week, requiring four motions. Only Councilmember Tim Bohen voted against it. Council approval was inevitable.  The landowner is entitled to build apartments on over six acres due to the property's zoning as high density residential. According to town staff, no other document, not even the 2016 general plan's land designation of the property as medium-density residential, holds precedence. As town Planning Director and Town Engineer Bayer Vella noted in the meeting: The General Plan “…cannot and does not override a zoning right. The zoning right is high density. That can't be swept aside.”
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