Sept. 22, 2004 - During the hottest moments of the afternoon, when many Oro Valley residents are tucked away in air-conditioned living rooms or offices or are retreating poolside to escape 100-plus degree temperatures, the men and women of the Oro Valley street departments are out working somewhere between the blazing sun and stifling asphalt, upkeeping the quality roadways of their quality town.
But when they finish with a long day's work, which usually begins before 6 a.m., there are no showers to wash away the sweat, no lockers in which to keep fresh dry clothes, no breakroom to sit in and drink a cooling soda.
Relief from these work conditions may finally be on the horizon after the "creative thinking" of one new councilmember brought forward a possible site that had not been previously considered.
The Oro Valley Town Council unanimously approved a resolution Sept. 15 to acquire land needed to move the public works yard and other town facilities to a bigger location, the first step toward new facilities for these and other town employees. Councilmember Terry Parish proposed the site to staff. Parish said in a subsequent interview the idea came out off a brainstorming session with fellow councilmember Barry Gillaspie as they sat in the office they share one day "kicking around ideas."
Town Manager Chuck Sweet said the town was given direction in November 2001 to prepare a report in connection with the Naranja Town Site Task Force to identify future space needs. The town had outgrown the current facilities on Calle Concordia and had been receiving complaints and were being sued by residents near the facility because of the noise, traffic and debris it generates in the process of doing business.
The town composed a list of more than 33 potential relocation sites, but could not succeed in getting one approved.
"This site is well located within the community for the future," Sweet told the council during its Sept. 15 meeting, explaining that it was large enough to accommodate future needs of the town and is located on a industrial site, away from homes.
The 23-acre property lies northeast of Ventana Medical Systems in Rancho Vistoso Neighborhood 3, off of east Rancho Vistoso Blvd. and currently is being developed by Monterey Homes.
The resolution gives the town staff authority to acquire the property, either through a purchase, or condemnation proceedings.
Town Attorney Mark Langlitz told the council condemnation is typically considered a "last resort" if the town has tried to negotiate with the property owners and failed.
In a subsequent interview, Langlitz explained that the process will now be to seek two appraisals of the property, which should take between two and three weeks. Upon completion, the town will make a written offer to the owner, accompanied by a copy of the appraisal, and then wait the statutory 20 days for the owner to decide whether to accept the offer.
If the owner does not accept, the council did give staff authority to commence condemnation proceedings.
Langlitz said that process involves filing the action with the court and then deciding, as a town, if it should ask for immediate possession or wait for a trial to determine what is just compensation for the land. With the first option, the town could begin work at the site immediately and post cash for the amount of the offer. In the second case, a jury would decide what is owed to the owner, which could take up to a year, and in the mean time, the town would not have access to the land.
Jeff Grobestein. the owner of the property, objected to the costs reflected in the presentation to the council at the Sept. 15 meeting because he said "we have very hard money put into the site" including a full sewer system for a housing development already in the ground. He said the site has been graded and that the owners have been spending " a terrific amount of time and money" on the project.
He urged the council to consider a purchase before entitlement, and said the council has been made aware by lawyers representing his project that "legal issues can arise."
He expressed appreciation to officials who visited the site and met with him to discuss the plans and said he hoped he and the town are able to work together with this proposal.
The whole project, including land acquisition, site improvements and the building of a new 12,000-square-foot facility, is expected to cost $4.5 million, according to town Finance Director David Andrews. It likely will be paid for using funds from the water utility, highway improvement and general funds.
If the town were to finance the entire project, through the selling of municipal bonds backed by excise taxes, it would average about $357,000 of annual debt over 20 years. But paying a portion of the costs in cash from the general fund and water utility is being considered, which would lower that annual debt to about $180, 000.
Mayor Paul Loomis said up until two months ago, the town was focused on purchasing a 9-acre parcel on Oracle Road and Calle Concordia for the town facilities. But that proposal was rejected by the council, which said the unsightliness of a public works yard at one of the town's entrances was an issue. Councilmember Parish said a lot of money was sunk into making the area a gateway to the community and that the facilities would not fit into the plans at that location.
The idea also was put forward that moving the facilities just around the corner from where they currently stand may not address the noise, fumes and blight concerns already raised by residents.
Councilmember Helen Dankwerth said she thought using a site that could potentially attract business was a bad move and that she was not sure she wanted to spend money from the contingency fund to purchase the land. Money for acquisition of a new public works site is not part of the proposed tentative budget.
At the Sept. 15 meeting, Dankwerth said, although she "likes to husband money" and spoke up previously about not spending, she thinks this proposal is " a good use" of funds.
Loomis said this new site was not one of the ones that was focused on by the town as it worked through the list of possible sites, but that as it continued to search for a location, many potential sites disappeared as development plans were still marching through the process over a three-year time span.
The current location of the yard on Calle Concordia has been contested by residents suing the town to move it.
A group of citizens, largely those living in the area surrounding the current site on Calle Concordia, several of whom are involved in the lawsuit, spoke at the meeting to offer their support for acquiring the property and moving to address the issue of facilities location.
Celta Sheppard, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said she felt the location was ideal.
"It's a wonderful solution," she told the councilmembers. "I am sorry it cost so much."
Resident Art Segal called it a "win-win" situation for all parties involved and Carl "Tony" Kuehn said the move was "crisis management" that showed leadership.
Town Engineer Bill Jansen said, in an interview following the meeting, the proposal shows "an excellent location" for the facilities and he is glad to see a solution at hand.
He said the town has outgrown the old facilities creating an "uncomfortable feeling" for workers based there.
He said the complaints about the current facilities have at times been upsetting to people who work at the public works yard and take pride in what they do.
"People calling your home a dump is not something you want to hear," he said, "especially when it's all you have and you're doing everything you can to keep it up."
He said he understands that people do not want these types of facilities near their homes and admits it is not an appropriate place for them, but said beeping trucks and heavy traffic are what come with that type of work, work that has to be done to keep the town moving forward.
He said the first step once new land is secured will be to do a master plan of the site "and quickly." He said there are already concept plans being developed, but that to get all the plans and permits necessary to actually commence moving will take as long as two years. He said with the type of equipment that is involved, shop space and fueling abilities will need to be in place before the town can physically move equipment.
"I can't go in there and throw up some old tin shacks," he said. "I'll have to go through the same development process as everyone else."
In other business, the council moved to change the appointment process for the town attorney so that the attorney no longer reports directly to the town manager, but to the council itself. The resolution was sponsored by councilmember Barry Gillaspie who said upon a survey of 80 cities and towns, 42 of them set it up this way.
"I really believe this is in the best interests of the town," Gillaspie said. He said, as pointed out by current Town Attorney Mark Langlitz, who has resigned his position and will leave Oro Valley for a county attorney position at the end of the month, that the potential for the town attorney to be somewhat politicized by this change could exist, but that he believes reporting to the seven members of the council and the citizens they represent will make the process more accountable. The resolution passed 5 to 1 with Parish absent and Loomis opposed. Loomis said the challenge to remain apolitical is "very hard for people who report to council" and that if a division occurs, he would expect the town attorney to reflect the majority position if this reporting process was in place.
Langlitz said making this move would not help to further political agendas because as a matter of ethics, an attorney cannot get involved in politics.
He said changing this process puts the attorney in "a difficult position" when rendering opinions.
If he or she brings forward an opinion that does not coincide with some councilmember's beliefs "they risk incurring the wrath of certain councilmembers," he said.
After some discussion, it was decided that while the town manager and town attorney should function as a "team", the town manager will still be involved in the annual review process of the attorney position.