Oro Valley's Board of Adjustment, on a 3-2 vote Jan. 22 overrode the support of 14 neighbors for a woman seeking a change in the town's zoning code that would have allowed her to expand her riding school to teach the handicapped.
Sheryl Kay Gonnson, owner of Head to Tail Riding School at 655 W. Calle Concordia, had hoped to buy 3.5 acres in the Campo Bello subdivision at 9151 N. Camino De Anzo and to be able to move the school from the 5.2 acres she is renting.
Gonnson's plan to purchase the property, however, was based on being able to relocate the nine horses she currently owns to the purchased site and possibly even expand the number to15.
The property Gonnson has her eye on became part of Oro Valley when the town was incorporated in 1974. Property owners brought into town by the incorporation were promised that their right to keep horses would be retained under a legal non-conforming use designation. In 1981, however, a new zoning code was adopted. Landowners who no longer kept livestock were regarded as having abandoned that right and saw that land rezoned so that no more than one horse per 36,000 square feet could be kept on the property.
Other properties in the area retained the right to keep a higher number of horses, one for every 10,000 square feet.
The property Gonnson was seeking provided for one horse for every 36,000 square feet, or a maximum of five horses. Gonnson wanted that changed to one horse for every 10,000 square feet so she could have as many as 15 horses.
The Board of Adjustment denied her request on a 4-1 vote in December but left it open for reconsideration.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, Town Attorney Dan Dudley told boardmembers they had no obligation to reconsider their decision if no new information was being put forth to justify Gonnson's request or to correct any mistake that might have been made by the board in reaching its earlier decision.
Gonnson, backed by at least two dozen supporters in the audience, was given a chance to make her case before any vote to reconsider was taken by the board.
She argued that residents had no voice in the rezoning of properties around her to allow just one horse per 36,000 square feet rather than one per 10,000 square feet. The argument was also made that it is unfair to allow landowners whose properties have been annexed into the town since 1981 to have more horses on their property and to deny the privilege to those who are already in the town, especially those residents whose properties are surrounded by homeowners with the ability to keep the higher number of animals.
Gonnson also argued in behalf of a change on the grounds that if she were able to buy the property with a variance she'd have more control over it and be able to make improvements such as putting in a sprinkler system to cut down the dust.
Fourteen neighbors then followed to the podium attesting to Gonnson's character, her love of the land and of horses, her efforts in behalf of her four children ages 8 to 18.
But the strongest pitch in her behalf came from James Kriegh, one of the town's original incorporators and the man for whom the former Dennis Weaver Park was renamed.
Kriegh reminded boardmembers that a promise was made to residents of the area in 1974 that if they signed petitions in favor of the town's incorporation they would be allowed to keep the same number of horses if the incorporation was successful.
"If that situation has changed, a wrong has been done," Kriegh said. The following night Kriegh made the same argument to the Town Council.
The Board of Adjustment hearing was Gonnson's only chance at getting the land use change she needed under the town's current zoning code.
Voting to deny Gonnson's request for board reconsideration of its earlier denial were Board Chairman Henry Suozzi, and boardmembers Bill Adler and Chris Lewis.Voting against denial were boardmembers Lyra Done and Bart Schannep.
Done had voted to reject Gonnson's request at the Dec. 18 meeting, but reversed her vote on the basis of Kriegh's allegation that a wrong had been committed in denying the request.
"If an egregious error was made years ago I can do nothing but vote no now," she said, referring to Kriegh's allegation that the town has broken its promise to residents.
"We're not taking away her right to use the property to keep horses," Adler said. "We're just not allowing her to enlarge on it."
Suozzi noted that Gonnson offered no new information, facts or evidence to warrant a reconsideration by the board. "I can't explain why things were done the way they were in the past," he said. "Our responsibility is to enforce the current code. We're not telling people they can't enjoy their horses, it's the number that's in question," he said.
Adler has suggested that since there is no zone currently that provides for the change Gonnson is seeking, that she apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a zoning change that would allow her to expand her school once the rewriting of the town's commercial zoning code is completed.
Councilman Dick Johnson said after the meeting that he also would support a rezoning for Gonnson.