After nearly two years of considerations, changes and postponements, a general plan amendment affecting a wide swath of Rancho Vistoso has gained the approval of the Oro Valley Town Council.
The council on Dec. 2 granted the land-use changes to Vistoso Partners, owners of the property in Rancho Vistoso Neighborhood 5. The changes affect about 126 acres.
Councilman Barry Gillaspie cast the one dissenting vote.
"I favor that the golf course area be left to natural open space," Gillaspie said in explanation of his no vote.
The golf course designation, in the northern section of Rancho Vistoso, would lie too close to the open spaces of Honey Bee Canyon Park and existing trail systems, Gillaspie said.
Oro Valley resident Doug McKee took issue with golf course designation on a different front. McKee, a former planning commission member, explained that future population growth would increase the demand for golf courses. He said the area allotted for golf was too small for a viable course.
"It is so restrictive that it would probably never get built," McKee said.
Any new golf course built in the town would be required to use reclaimed water and not groundwater. The costs of tapping into the reclaimed water lines and associated infrastructure would fall to the developer.
The changes Vistoso Partners sought would transfer the location of a future school. Amphitheater Unified School District has an agreement with Vistoso Partners to use the area for a middle school, depending on population demands.
In addition to the general plan amendment approval, the council also granted Vistoso Partners an amendment to the planned area development that governs the same area. The changes to the development plan mirrored those approved under the general plan amendment.
The council approved the changes unanimously.
Home rule election set
The council unanimously voted to include a home rule question on election ballots in March.
Home rule is a provision of state law that allows municipalities to set their own spending limitations. Cities are required to return to the voter every four years to renew home rule.
If voters reject the home rule question, town government would be subject to state-imposed spending limits based on population estimates and budget figures from 1980, the year the legislature enacted home rule laws. The year 1980 is used as baseline year for the spending formula.
If the home rule option doesn't pass, the effect would be to impose severe spending limitations upon the town.
Spending would drop from an estimated $73 million — a figure that includes capital and operating expenses — to about $21 million.
The home rule question will appear on ballots for the election scheduled for March 9, 2010.
Park fees to go up
A measure to raise park fees was met with unanimous approval.
The increased fees for park usage are estimated to bring in about $88,000, up from approximately $64,500 last year, an increase of $23,500.
League sports would bear the brunt of the most fee changes. Youth and adult sport leagues like baseball, soccer, softball and swimming could expect to pay more to use town facilities.
Field maintenance at James D. Kriegh and Riverfront parks costs the town roughly $253,000 per year. Ball field upkeep accounts for $152,000 of that total.
Under the new fee structure, the town estimates annual cost-recoveries of $38,000, or about 24 percent. The town recovered about $18,000, or 11 percent, in past years.
Pool fees will go up the most, with resident and non-profit fees for pool lanes and lap swimming to double from $2 to $4 for short course lanes, and from $4 to $8 for long lanes. Non-residents and for-profit groups would face $20- and $40-per-hour charges for the same services.
Transit options discussed
Oro Valley Transit Administrator Aimee Ramsey presented some options to the council regarding the future of the town's Coyote Run bus service. Coyote Run provides rides to the town's disabled and senior residents for a modest fee.
Among the options discussed was to make no changes to the service. Another option would be to partner with the Regional Transportation Authority to run a changed version of Coyote Run without Oro Valley residency requirements.
That version could require the elimination of Sun Tran's bus route 402, which serves Rancho Vistoso. The bus route has performed below expectations, with an average of seven riders per day. Another Sun Tran bus route that serves Oro Valley, route 401, has an average of 47 riders per day.
An average of 65 people ride Oro Valley's Coyote Run on a daily basis.
Such a transition from local to shared control of the transit system would likely involve fare changes, possibly increases, and town payments to the RTA of about $185,000 to operate the system, Ramsey said.
The town currently spends about $250,000 per year on the service. Coyote Run has a total budget of $613,000, the bulk of which comes from reimbursements from the Pima Association of Governments, RTA and state lottery funds.
A final option discussed would abandon Coyote Run completely and allow the RTA and possible contractors to operate such transit systems.
Ramsey estimates the option to cost the town about $101,000, which would be paid to the RTA for transit services.
The options, at least initially, show possible cost savings to the town.
Mayor Paul Loomis, however, cautioned that it was too early in the conversation to start assuming.
"I think it's premature for us to say 'OK, here's what out budget savings will be next year,' because I think the RTA will not be ready to answer that question at this point," Loomis said. Loomis also sits on the RTA governing board.
The council made no decision on the transit issue, but vowed to keep informed on future developments and plans the RTA has for regional transportation effecting Oro Valley.