Developers of the proposed SettleInn at Pine Meadows retirement community successfully leaped over their first political hurdle Tuesday when the Gila County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved their rezoning application.
While most of those in attendance at Tuesday's meeting residents of the rural subdivisions of Thompson Draw and Bear Flat, which are adjacent to the proposed Pine Meadows site were present to urge denial of what they saw as a subdivision issue, the supervisors said they were acting on what was purely a rezoning issue.
"This doesn't mean that (the development is) a done deal," said Gila County District 3 Supervisor Cruz Salas prior to making the motion to rezone the property from general-use to subdivision-use. "There might not be enough water in this area, or a sufficient sewage system, to support this number of units ... The state may come back and say, 'No way ... you're going to have to cut it down."
In May, Dist. 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen told Landstar Group LLC officials, who are developing Pine Meadows, and the project's nearby homeowners to work out compromises on a number of design issues including density, compatibility with the environment, water and lighting. However, the opposing factions never got past the topic of density, Stan Barnes, a former state senator and political consultant hired by the property owners to oppose the development, said before the meeting.
As proposed, the 133-acre development site, which is 15 miles east of Payson on U.S. 260, would consist of at least 460 cabin sites or almost four homesites per acre which Barnes has said exceeds the density averages of both Phoenix and Los Angeles.
According to Barnes, homeowners from the nearby rural subdivisions of Tonto Village, Thompson Draw 1 and 2, and Bear Flat were willing to support one unit per acre, or 133 units. "That is roughly twice the density of the immediate neighborhood," he said.
The lowest the developers were willing to go, however, was 460 units, Barnes said.
The project's developers, David Woods and Larry Henley of the Phoenix-based Landstar Group, did not return calls made to their office.
"In our opinion, what the developers want is not appropriate given the Gila County Planning and Zoning ordinances," Barnes said.
The Gila County Planning and Zoning Commission disagreed. In early May, it unanimously recommended that the supervisors approve the Pine Meadows rezoning request, as commission director Terry Smith recounted Tuesday.
According to Smith, the developers met all of the county's planning and zoning requirements.
Phoenix land-use lawyer Grady Gammage Jr., speaking for homeowners in place of the absent Stan Barnes, told the supervisors that, because of the project's incompatibility with the Thompson Draw surroundings, "You cannot legitimately make the finding that the proposal should be approved."
Landstar attorney Jason Morris objected to homeowners' claims that his clients were not willing to compromise.
"We have come to the table with cutbacks, with larger lots, with amenities that will be shared," Morris said. "Unfortunately, we've had to agree to disagree on one issue, and that is density."
Salas prefaced the final vote by saying, "How are you folks expecting us to make a decision and to tell these people 'no' when we don't have answers (regarding what the land in question can or cannot support)?"
But that didn't assuage the development's critics.
"The buck has been passed," grumbled part-time Thompson Draw resident Roger Juszczak upon the meeting's conclusion. "It wasn't a surprise. But the fight isn't over yet."
Christensen agreed with the latter part of Juzzczak's statement but denied that any responsibility was shirked by the board in this phase of the battle.
"The homeowners were just as belligerent about making accommodations as anybody," Christensen said Thursday. "They didn't give us many options. They simply didn't want (the rezoning to be approved)."
All the zoning change allows Landstar to do, Christensen said, is to "apply for all the other necessitates for the subdivision to go in. And then they have to meet all the requirements regarding water, sewage, roads, and all of those things, which have yet to be worked out."
The density of the project, he said, will be dictated by the availability of water and how much of it Landstar is able to develop.
"If they cannot develop the water to accommodate what they want to put in there, they'll have to continue to reduce (the number of units)."
In order for the developers to prove the adequacy of the water, Christenson said, it is their responsibility to have the local wells tested. which has not been done to date.
Beyond that, there are "a huge number of hurdles" awaiting the developers, he said.
"They have to go to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Department of Environmental Quality, to our engineering department for all the road issues, to the Arizona Department of Transportation for the entrance off the state highway.
"And they have to do all this within a two-year period of time," he said, "or the land will revert back to its original zoning.