Their pictures taken for posterity, their handshaking and speeches concluded, it didn't take long for the five newly sworn-in members of Oro Valley's expanded seven-member Town Council to get the fur flying at their first meeting June 2.
It all started to simmer when Helen Dankwerth, just elected to a four-year term along with Councilmembers Barry Gillaspie and Terry Parish, nominated Councilmember Paula Abbott as vice mayor.
By the end of the council's three-hour meeting, matters had risen to a boil with the council's 5-2 vote to reject the Beztak Companies' request for an extension of town-imposed conditions related to landscaping of an apartment and commercial complex it is developing at the southeast corner of Lambert Lane and La Cañada Drive.
Voting to grant the extension were Mayor Paul Loomis and two-year Councilmember Kenneth "K.C." Carter.
Abbott's problem was that, with a June appointment to vice mayor, she would only be serving in that role for six months until the council took up the appointment again. The vice mayor's normal term is from January to January but Loomis hadn't put the item on the council's agenda for action back then. So Abbott wanted the council to change the term to run from June to June, but her motion failed to receive a second in support.
The council then moved on to temporary, two-month council assignments as liaisons to various town boards, committees and commissions. The appointments were made by Loomis, not to link the councilmembers to areas in which they might be most familiar, he said, but to broaden their experience during the two month period.
Parish said he thought the council, rather than the mayor alone, should decide who gets appointed to the various panels and the assignments ought to match the councilmembers' skill levels and experience. In doing so, Parish sought to serve as the Police Department liasion because of his experience as a sergeant with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, his campaigning on the issue of public safety and the support he received from Oro Valley Police in the election. Parish also suggested that Conny Culver, who was elected to a two-year term, would better serve on the town's Development Review Board and Gillaspie on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Loomis had assigned Parish as the liaison to the Metropolitan Tucson and Convention Bureau and the Greater Tucson Economic Council, Culver to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Northwest Pima Chamber of Commerce and Gillaspie as liaison to the Police Department and as an alternate to the Pima Association of Governments. Rather than go into executive session or settle the issue then, the council agreed to take up the liaison appointments at its June 9th study session.
The most heated discussion was saved for last in the Beztak case.
Beztak wants to build 138 two and three-story apartments and 31,000 square feet of commercial space on the 13-acre Lambert-LaCañada site. It's been trying to develop the site since 1999. A development plan calling for nealy 116,000 square feet of commercial development was approved by the town in 2000, but, after failing to get an anchor tenant, the company turned to apartment development and the battles with residents and the town began.
Since then, several deadlines for landscaping and grading at the site have come and gone. A grading exception and development plan was approved by the council in March 2003 but carried a condition that the perimeter of the site had to be landscaped by June 1, 2004. It hasn't been done.
Beztak told the council it needs another deadline extension because of constraints imposed by lenders, town bonding requirements and other conditions imposed by the previous Town Council.
Other conditions imposed in March 2003 that Beztak has failed to meet include proof of construction contracts for commercial buildings along Lambert and the placement in escrow of funds for underground utility lines.
Gillaspie said such conditions were no more onerous than those imposed on other developers.
Beztak representative Larry Wilkinson told the council that substantial progress toward landscaping the south and east perimeter of the site could be made by the council's June 16 meeting but Loomis said he was skeptical anything would be accomplished in light of Beztak's history of nonperformance. The town has been asking Beztak to be more proactive, but gotten no response, so what guarantees are there things will be any different now, he said.
Abbott also raised the issue of credibility, not just Beztak's, because of its history of nonperformance, but of the town's "because it sends out a message that we're just willing to give out these extensions left and right," she said.
Parish said he was "vehemently opposed" to any further extension. "We told them last year this would be the last time and I don't know why we're doing this again," he said. "We're just wasting our time."
When discussions shifted to the possibility of the town calling in the nearly $263,000 in restoration and landcape bonds Beztak has put up and the town using those funds to pay for that work, as well as other penalties for nonpeformance, Marc Simon, an attorney with Snell & Wilmer representing Beztak, told the council he didn't think such discussions were in the town's best interest.
Loomis, seeking an alternative that would allow for some action by Beztak, then moved that the town attorney look into Beztak's performance and what was being required of the company, along with penalties for nonperformance, that Beztak be required to provide cash funding in escrow not to exceed $300,000 for underground utility lines, that the company relocate at least 80 trees and provide a temporary irrigation system to the site, and show evidence of progress on the improvements by June 16.
The motion was defeated 5-2 by the same majority that ended up denying the landscaping extension. Neither Wilkinson nor Simon could be reached for comment.
Mark Langlitz, town attorney, as a result, has begun the process that may lead to using Beztak bonds to pay for landscaping at the site. The action also forces Beztak to submit a new development plan and present new grading and landscaping plans to the town's Development Review Board, Langlitz said.
In other action, the council directed Town Manager Chuck Sweet to ask Comcast Cable Communications Inc. to add public, education and government channels for Oro Valley and other area customers when the town begins negotiating a new franchise agreement with Comcast in the coming fiscal year. The new contract would take effect in 2007. The addition, which could make possible the televising of Oro Valley council meetings and a broad range of programming through the University of Arizona and Pima Community College, was requested by Joe Chitwood, assistant general manager for the University of Arizona Channel (KUAT Communications Group).