Planning and Zoning slams Mission Peaks

Planning and Zoning slams Mission Peaks
By Philip Franchine, Sahuarita Sun
Published: Thursday, October 30, 2008 9:26 PM MDT

TUCSON—The huge Mission Peaks project proposed for west of Sahuarita got a giant thumbs-down from the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday, as the panel voted 6-0 not to recommend it.

Commissioners began panning the concept after listening to the staff report, which was favorable, and before even hearing from any neighbors or the applicant, American Nevada Co.

Planning and Zoning Chairman Bruce Gungle asked county planner Jim Veomett, “this proposal is for 17,000 housing units, sits between two mines where there is little or no current infrastructure, is opposed by the San Xavier District (of the Tohono O’odham Nation), would have significant impact on Mount Hopkins and Kitt Peak (observatories) and by my estimation ignores the (county’s) Conservation Land System, and you guys (county staff) are recommending approval?”

“Did I hear that right?” Gungle asked, to laughter in the audience and among commissioners.

Veomett said county staff did indeed support the Comprehensive Plan Amendment request, whose fate will be decided by the Pima County Board of Supervisors in December. A similar request was approved Monday by the Sahuarita Town Council.

Any further development would have to be followed up by a rezoning and a detailed development plan and the town also would require a pre-annexation agreement.

The county planning commissioners took off the gloves compared to the more deferential Town Plan Commission and Town Council. When American Nevada’s Matt Lawson said the developer was proposing to help solve the region’s water problem by paying for a pipeline extending the CAP system for recharge, one county plan commissioner asked whether that amounted to solving excessive water use “by using more water?”

Another commissioner said, “I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to believe that Sahuarita can solve its water problems by incorporating an additional 17,000 (housing) units.”

Officials of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold and Kitt Peak National Observatory spoke against the proposal, as did neighbors. Many said the plan would ruin a rural lifestyle and questioned how long any CAP allocations would last. A mine official said its activities, including blasting and excavation, and the dust that results, would draw complaints from residents.

‘Played off against each other’

One county plan commissioner said the county and town were being “played off against each other” by the developer, which in 2006 submitted a plan to the town, then withdrew it; in 2007 submitted a plan to the county and withdrew it, and in 2008 has submitted to both entities. Commissioner Bob Cook, in making the motion to deny, said he was doing so in large part to give the Town of Sahuarita more leverage in its negotiations with American Nevada.

If the Board of Supervisors turns down the request, the developer would have no alternative to developing under town rules. The developer has asked for up to $50 million in incentives from the town, citing the higher development fees and taxes in the town.

More coverage will follow in the Wednesday Sahuarita Sun, including comments from the observatory, questions about how the project would affect a favorite bicycling route on Mission Road and comments from American Nevada. | 547-9738