August 25, 2004 - For two years, Ron Wiener began his commute to work at 3:30 a.m.
But his trip was not the typical sunrise drive down Oracle Road or Interstate 10.
Wiener, who lives in the La Cholla Air Park, would board his small airplane each morning to arrive in Los Angeles, where he served as one of the city's firefighters.
A pilot for 45 years, and now a certified flight instructor, Wiener said he enjoys the freedom of flying and teaches his students how to relish their privilege while remaining safe.
But he said a proposed development near the airpark threatens the safety of not only the pilots, but also the residents living in Oro Valley.
The WLB Group, representing Vistoso Partners, is requesting the council approve a preliminary plat for 216 single-family home lots located in the Rancho Vistoso neighborhood, on the northeast and northwest corners of Moore Road and the La Cañada extension currently being built. The 62-acre site is adjacent to the air park, is not part of the town, although the town has considered annexing it.
The Development Review Board recommended approval of the plat July 13, with several conditions relating primarily to lot widths and streetscapes.
But Wiener called the plans for high density housing at this site "encroachment," saying the people in the air park were promised at least a 100 foot buffer between the park and any development. He also said he understood from the general plan that transitions in development areas were to be gradual changes in density, and that a rural homestead area next to high density housing would not be a compatible use.
"They keep chipping away and asking for more and more," Wiener said of the rural land that borders the fast-developing area of town in and around Rancho Vistoso.
WLB group representatives present at the meeting said the buffer between the lots and the airpark is more than 100 feet and Community Development Director Brent Sinclair confirmed that. Sinclair also said there normally is a warning issued to any potential home buyer in the area that they will be living beneath a fly zone and made aware of any risk.
Wiener said development of high density housing on this particular piece of land would put houses in the approach area of the runway running east to west. He said safety and noise are just two of several issues to consider when building near an airpark and offered to the council information he has collected regarding appropriate land uses near such a facility.
Wiener was among several residents of La Cholla Air Park and pilots who use the facility to speak against further development of the surrounding area.
The citizen group called on several new council members to "uphold your campaign promises" to preserve the air park.
Vice Mayor Paula Abbott objected to the development and moved to reject the preliminary plat, although the motion failed 3 to 4, with Abbott, Councilmembers Helen Dankwerth and K.C. Carter voting to deny the plat.
"Encroachment with me and the airpark has always been an issue," Abbott said. "It's not a safe thing to do. We're going to have an accident."
But Councilmember Barry Gillaspie reminded the council that the plat had already been approved by a previous council, leaving this council's options limited.
"They have the legal right to do what they are doing," he said of the developer.
Councilmember Terry Parish agreed, saying whether they wanted the development or not "this is not a rezoning issue."
Councilmember Connie Culver moved that the council address the issue in a different way by continuing the agenda item in order to discuss "compatible uses around the airpark" according to general plan land use designations. She asked that the council look at the information gathered by Wiener and further discuss how safety can be addressed in the area.
"Building under the flight path of any airport is bad judgment," she said.
Dick Maes, representing Vistoso Partners, said the plat was first approved by the council in 1987 and was zoned for high density use. He said even when the property was unincorporated Pima County, it was zoned medium to high density.
But Gillaspie said the town's general plan is the overriding document in an issue such as this. "If we have to change things, particularly in the name of public interest, we can," he said.
In other business, the council is looking to move forward with revising the town's general plan in order to bring the document back to voters for approval next year.
Culver asked that a new citizen's committee be formed to look at the plan that was adopted by the council in June 2003, but not ratified by the people during the November election.
She asked that members of Oro Valley boards and commissions, town staff, members of the group OV Beyond 2004, which was against approval of the proposed plan, and new citizens be asked to join the group and work on revising it.
After much discussion on the best way to move forward, the council voted 6 to 1 to advertise for citizen volunteers interested in joining the group and to direct the town boards and commissions to choose a representative to work on the plan during their next meeting.
Mayor Paul Loomis voted against the motion, which he made, because he said the council should have a more defined idea of what they are looking for in a committee before beginning the process. How citizen members will be chosen and how the group will approach the task will be addressed by the council during a Sept. 20 study session.
Culver said it was important to her to take "these first baby steps" forward because the defeated plan has been sitting idle since November. She said ideally she would like to see the plan ready for the ballot again by May 5, although it may take until the following November.
"We need to go forward," she said. "We've been stuck since the election. It's time to get people up and going."
Additionally, the issue of the referendum to stop tax incentives for developers in Oro Valley was brought to the table after Abbott and Carter asked that discussion and possible acceptance of the petitions submitted by the group be processed.
A group, calling itself Stop Outrageous OV Giveaways, is currently suing the town and its clerk Kathi Cuvelier, for refusing to accept petitions to bring the agreements before the citizens for approval or denial in the form of a referendum.
Town Attorney Mark Langlitz discouraged the council from discussing the issue while the Pima County Superior Court action is still pending. He recommended the item be continued indefinitely.
But Abbott pushed on, saying she would like the council to make the two legal opinions it is currently seeking on the matter public upon receipt. She said it is the citizen's right to know what advice the council is given on the issue.
Langlitz said it was dangerous to waive the attorney/client privilege before the council knows what the opinions will say, and advised against any such action.
While the majority of the council agreed the information should be released, councilmembers also said it would be best to first read the opinions before deciding if they should be made public.