General Plan's biggest naysayer now supports it - The Explorer: Import

General Plan's biggest naysayer now supports it

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Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:49 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

October 5, 2005 - If there is one resident of Oro Valley who is most familiar with the Oro Valley General Plan, it is probably Bill Adler.

It's not at all unusual for him to be present at a town meeting, speaking for or against a proposed action and citing the plan in his argument.

Adler has served on several of the town's boards and committees over the years and now is a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. He also recently served on the town's General Plan Update Revisions Committee as it worked to revise the plan and get it back before voters this fall.

But before joining the committee, Adler led the organized voice of opposition against the plan with OV Beyond 2004, a group formed to defeat the plan when it last went before the voters. The members were successful with their mission with the November 2003 defeat of the proposed plan update.

Adler said that because of that work he is "somewhat responsible" for the failure of the town's general plan, and that is why he took his role on its revision committee very seriously.

He saw it as his chance to fix all the parts he did not agree with from the 2003 plan, and in large part he said he is satisfied with the outcome of the revisions.

Throughout the conversation about revisions from the revision committee, the planning commission and the council, members were aware that making too many changes to the plan could be problematic.

During the 2003 process, one of the arguments made was that tremendous public input went into writing the plan but when it came to the council for approval, too many changes were made and it no longer reflected the work of the people.

The council did not want this to happen again, and that is why it appointed a diverse revision committee of 11 residents who were to look at about 20 specific areas and consider revisions.

Adler was one of the members of the revision committee.

At a recent community planning seminar he attended in Prescott, Adler said he found out from other town leaders that there are relatively few communities that have had trouble passing their general plans.

He said one reason he believes Oro Valley has had such problems is that the community cares fiercely about how the town should grow.

"How growth should be managed, so that the character of the area is preserved, it's an issue here. Perhaps more so than in other places," he said.

"The controversy over the proposed 2003 plan was that some people in this town felt it differed significantly from what the citizens had expressed as their desires for the town," he said.

He said the town gathered a great deal of information about what residents wanted for the town through surveys, focus groups and open houses.

"But when you look at all of those results and you compare it with the thrust and key elements of the proposed plan, there was a disconnect. That's why I got involved," he said.

One big issue for Adler and OV Beyond 2004 was how the land use map was changed during the update process.

Adler said property owners in the town who had 20 acres or more could submit recommendations for changes to their property during that process. Adler objected because he believes it bypassed the town's procedures, its public process.

"There was no input from neighbors, no formal application. That was the initial point of controversy. The land use map changes were disagreeable, but, more, it was that the process was bypassed."

Once the map left the update committee and went to the Planning and Zoning Commission, more changes were made. Then it went to the council, which held special meetings where no public comment was taken, and then additional changes were made.

"The result is that you had a final map, and it was changed in a manner that was objectionable to a lot of people."

The area at Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard and north to Moore Road was where most of the changes were, and those changes allowed for higher density development in those areas.

The area also was designated as a growth area, which was another major point of contention for Adler, who argued that the town "misrepresented" the state's instructions regarding growth areas, saying that there must be such areas designated, while the actual mandate said growth areas, "if any," should be designated in a particular way.

The reason OV Beyond objected to the growth areas as they were designated in the 2003 plan is that a growth area makes developing easier, according to Adler, because if someone wants to build more there than is allowed according to its land use designation, it requires a minor amendment of the general plan, which means a simple majority of the council's vote instead of a major amendment, which require a two-thirds majority vote.

"It creates two classes of citizens: one who lives outside growth areas and those who live in a growth area. It's a distinction in class of citizens, which I objected to," Adler said.

The Tangerine and La Cholla growth area was removed from the Oro Valley General Plan during the revision process. Amendments to the general plan were put on a matrix that will guide the determination about whether a land use designation change is a major or minor amendment.

Mixed use neighborhoods was another issue OV Beyond took on because Adler said it caused controversy among many residents.

Adler said the biggest point of contention regarding MUNs was that no one could define what one was, particularly in relation to the allowed density of homes.

Because there was no town ordinance which established MUN, no one knew what the entitlements would be for such an area.

MUNs are a mix of residential and commercial uses in the same neighborhood. When attention was called to the use of the term throughout the plan, people wanted to understand how much residential would be needed to support the retail element of the development, Adler said.

"What people assumed was that at least part of the residential would be apartments in order to have enough density to support. There is an aversion to apartments in Oro Valley," he said, adding that some have the notion that apartments bring crime into communities.

"MUN created a lot of anxiety over the proposed plan. Many people voted against the plan because of this one issue.

"If I lived in an area where an MUN was and no one could tell me what it was, and my only option was to vote down the whole plan, I would probably do it."

The term "mixed-use neighborhood" was eliminated from the 2003 plan by the previous council, but there were references to mixed use that were still in the document when it came time to vote on it.

"This bred a mistrust by some because they thought the town was trying to slip something by them," Adler said.

In the revised document, the committee has renamed the controversy "complimentary use district" and has taken it out of the plan itself but put it in the implementation document so the town can define it for possible use in the future.

Don Cox was chairman of the Planning and Zoning Committee when the revised plan went through the required public hearing process earlier this year. He said he is unhappy with the way the controversy over mixed-use neighborhoods was handled throughout the revision process. In 2003, those opposed to the plan campaigned against MUNs.

Cox said the revised plan substituted the words "complimentary-use district" for mixed-use neighborhood, but since neither is defined by town code, there is still no telling how it could be used in the future development. He said to him MUN and complimentary use district are the same.

Adler disagrees.

"By changing the name, we aren't fooling anybody," Adler said. "We are improving it. Complimentary says things will go together. We still need to define the particulars."

How to amend the plan was probably the most contentious issue for Adler and OV Beyond 2004, because the group wants the plan to be followed.

Adler said the most important part of the plan is probably the preamble, which states that the General Plan should be followed and consistently applied to decisions involving the town's land.

"We changed the language. We made it clear and we made it better," he said about what the revision committee did with regard to amendments.

"Adoption of an amendment is more demanding but not unreasonable. We don't want to say we don't want any amendments."

By the old definitions, any amendment that increased density was a minor amendment and, therefore, easier to pass, Adler said. Those amendments that decreased density, however, were considered major amendments.

"It was directly contrary to what citizens said they wanted. It stuck out like a sore thumb," he said.

Cox said he believes the most significant change made to the plan dealt with what are called the four findings of fact, which are four statements in the original plan that were used in discussing whether an amendment could be made to the plan.

"Before, anyone could make an argument that could vote down an amendment," Cox said, because there was always some part of at least one of the findings that could not be met, and the way the plan read, it was argued that anyone seeking an amendment to the general plan had to meet all four findings.

Cox said he believes the rest of the plan was largely ignored because people focused so much on the findings.

"The findings of fact are important issues, but the whole plan is important," he said.

Adler said that the findings of fact also were an important aspect of the revision process and that the revised plan puts more stringent requirements on amending the plan.

"It will be like amending the Constitution," he said, "We feel that if the land use map has been properly envisioned … then it shouldn't be changed, unless there are some tough standards that are met."

Significant resource areas, places in the town with washes, ridge lines, slopes, or large Ironwood or saguaro populations, for example, are better protected under the revised plan, Adler said, which is another way the plan helps to control growth. Significant resource areas are identified on the land use map and are placed over an area in addition to its land use designation, further limiting the density of development allowed in the area.

"The purpose is to try to provide another layer of protection for the things that we want to preserve," Adler said.

"The original plan encouraged development. We want to encourage preservation. Development will occur, but we want it to occur carefully," he said.

Another issue discussed at length before the planning commission was what to do with the state land to the north of Oro Valley on the land use map.

The issue was raised during a public hearing at Sun City Vistoso, where some residents are concerned about future development of that land because of the proximity of it to their homes.

Cox said the planning commission thought it was a good idea to put in writing the town's intentions, to create a plan for the state land to the north. He said he believes the town can better control what develops there if it has a plan and pursues annexing it in the future instead of sitting back and watching it be developed by Pima County.

A large part of the conversation among the committee members during the revisions process had to do with what Adler called "wordsmithing" the document.

For example, the use of "may" instead of "shall" introducing the various policies throughout the plan was controversial, and it was one of the issues OV Beyond used throughout its campaign to defeat the 2003 plan.

"The intent was to defeat the plan for other reasons," Adler said. "We glommed on to the taking out the 'shalls' and said leaders of the town have no intent to consistently follow the plan."

The wish for the town's leaders to follow the plan, both now and in the future, and use it in making decisions about land use and the preservation of resources was the overriding motivation for Adler's involvement in this process for more than two years.

He said that at the same recent planning seminar where he learned that others are not having trouble ratifying their plans he also learned that, once passed, general plans are more ignored than used. He said that is the way it has been in the past for Oro Valley and he wants that to change with this plan.

"If specifications are adopted by the town, they should be followed and they should be applied. The 'shalls' were symbolic," he said.

"We say to the community, 'When you are concerned about something that's going on in your neighborhood, the general plan needs to be your ammunition.' If it's ignored, you're just beating your gums."

He said the revision committee did good work to agree on a document everyone can support. He said it may have done some things that may seem obtuse to some but he believes all of the changes made are important.

One argument against what Adler has tried to do in the revisions is that the Oro Valley General Plan is supposed to be general in nature and should not tie the town down too specifically to any direction or policy.

But Adler said he has spoken to people for more than two years about the plan and he believes that what the majority wants is what the preamble to the documents says: that the General Plan be followed and consistently applied when making decisions.

"They want it to be followed, want it to be part of decision making process," he said.

He said he has heard the plan being brought into more conversations with this new council, elected last year, and he is glad of that.

"I think this plan is better and I think the atmosphere in which decision are made is better," he said.

"The town is different now. We have a different council of independent, reasonable thinkers. This whole distrust issue is mitigated. It is substantially reduced. In my mind, it goes away."

Another area of the revised plan that has gotten a lot of attention throughout the update process is the removal of the words "property tax" in reference to possible future sources of revenue.

Adler said one argument about campaign signs that OV Beyond 2004 posted regarding taxes is not valid because the group did not address property taxes, specifically, but new taxes in general.

"OV Beyond did not have an issue with property tax specifically, but we did have a problem with taxes that are not for specific things," he said.

Cox said removing the words "property tax" from the plan was not enough for him.

He tried to get the issue addressed when the revised Oro Valley General Plan was before the Planning and Zoning Commission by asking that a positive statement be added, which would read that the town is opposed to putting into effect such a tax. However, Cox's recommendation was voted down by the commission.

The 2003 plan listed a property tax as a possible source of revenue for the town, among other sources, such as user fees and impact fees. When OV Beyond 2004 came out in opposition to the plan, Cox said one of the issues its members sited was the property tax, although Adler said it was not specifically a property tax, but no new taxes in general that was the rhetoric of OV Beyond 2004's campaign.

"They picked something very politically charged," Cox said. "But it was somewhat disingenuous because the general plan has nothing to do with property tax."

The revised plan states that the town can consider "other revenue streams such as, but not limited to" and lists several methods, leaving out the property tax.

Cox argued throughout the revisions process that even though the two controversial words were gone the language still did not indicate that the town, as a matter of policy, was opposed to the tax.

"My big gripe was, and is, that there is no positive statement opposing a property tax," he said. Such a statement would not be binding, he added, and neither is a statement supporting a tax, but having it in the plan would indicate that when the plan was adopted people supported a policy of having no property taxes.

Adler said he did not agree with Cox's recommendation regarding property taxes.

"He wanted it excluded," he said. "The problem is that it is unnecessary to exclude because it must be voted on by the people."

Adler said the revision committee changed the wording to take out property tax so that the plan does not recommend the tax but does not specifically prohibit it, either.

Removing the mention of the property tax in the plan also was important to committee member Robert Delaney. He said the inclusion of the property tax as an option for future revenue in the town was one of the "red flags" for him in 2003.

"It detracted from the purpose of the plan, so we (the General Plan Revision Committee) decided to take it out of the conversation," he said.

As ballots for the Oro Valley General Plan election are mailed out this week, Adler said he is not organizing any campaign in favor of the plan at this time and will wait and see what Zimmerman and Associates, the marketing consultants hired to help the town with the plan, will do to help the town educate residents about the changes and the upcoming election.

Regardless of some of the issues Cox has with the details of the plan, he said it is a good plan and was made better through the revisions, particularly with the change to the findings of fact. He said he hopes voters ratify it this time around.

"The General Plan has been far more divisive in this town than it needed to be," he said.

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