PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Following the June 18 approval for the rezoning of 25.5 acres on Vallery Lane from Open Space (OS) to Recreational Vehicle Park (RVP), a group of citizens who disagree with the rezoing decision formed the Citizens for Quality Development Committee and began the arduous task of getting a referendum on the ballot so the 2,727 active voters within the town limits of Pinetop-Lakeside can personally weigh in on the issue. Timing will not allow it to be on the November ballot, as hoped by the group, but if the 109 signatures are obtained and validated, it will allow a mail in ballot to occur. July 20 is the drop dead deadline for the referendum group to get everything in to the town and in spite of numerous obstacles, they are on target.

Referendum over PTLS RVP Rezone Dividing Residents

25.5 Acres on Vallery Lane was rezoned by PTLS council on June 25 from OS to RVP for an RV Park. The land was part of the Land Exchange with the U.S. Forest Service in 2018, now owned by Brett Cote, BC2.

Both sides of the rezoning issue are using various means, mainly social media, to get information out to anyone who is listening, but especially those who are able to sign the referendum or later vote on the issue. The referendum committee’s issues are many and include concerns over such things as noise, lighting, density, fire evacuation, devaluation of property, concerns of effects on children at Camp Grace and Camp Tatiyee, rules not in accordance with the town’s general plan and access to trails the community has been allowed to use for years.

Rezoning from OS to RVP

Christopher Brett Cote, manager of BC2, LLC, is the private property owner of 344 acres which was part of the Forest Service Land Exchange which occurred in 2018. Cote applied last year to rezone the 25.5 acres when GJR Development contracted to buy the property contingent upon having the property rezoned for an RV park which the developer plans to build.

The rezone met with opposition at the very first meeting. A packed full council chambers of community residents showed up for the Oct. 24, 2019 Planning and Zoning meeting which had to be reset due to last minute restrictions delivered to the town and the developer from Navajo County. The Dec. 12 meeting sent residents back home before the meeting even began when the rezoning request was withdrawn. June began the process all over again when Cote obtained a different access route to the park from White Mountain Road. Planning and Zoning held a meeting and public hearing on June 11. After hearing from 13 residents they voted to approve the rezone with stipulations that the park have no permanent residents and no skirting or decks allowed. June 18 the matter was placed before the town council with another public hearing. Community Development Director Cody Blake tired to stave off opposition to the approval by laying out the meaning of RVP zoning and answering all the questions and concerns that had been brought to the town’s attention. Eight people spoke that evening and in the end, the rezone was approved with the stipulation that no one could occupy an RV space for more than nine months and there would be no decks or outbuildings.

During the June 18 meeting Councilor Jim Snitzer, a former planning and zoning commissioner, encouraged anyone speaking to the rezone to address issues that have to do with legality rather than site plan issues which are not valid reasons for the council to deny the rezone.

The approval of the rezone by council was not acceptable to many of the residents within the town limits or the county. Following the June 25 meeting a referendum committee was formed and a serial number required to begin gathering signatures was obtained.

Social Media Outreach

Once the referendum process began, Town Manager Keith Johnson said there was a lot of misinformation out there about the rezoning and in his Talk of the Town which goes out to town residents by email, and was also placed on the town’s Facebook page, he shared a letter he sent to a citizen in which he answered their concerns about the RV Park in hopes of correcting misinformation.

A private citizen had put up a Facebook page, White Mountain Concerned Citizens Community in Action, and a website regarding the referendum. Cote wrote in an email to the Independent that he had tried to correct any misinformation by posting a statement to that page.

Cote wrote, “As far as what has been posted on Facebook, I am not able to see the comments and conversation in the private Facebook Group White Mountain Preservation, as I have not been accepted to the Group despite my request to join. My wife was in the Group, and posted the same statement, on my behalf, that I posted to the Town of Pinetop and the Pinetop Show Low Facebook pages last week. She was immediately removed and blocked from the group, and I assume the statement was taken down.”

Petitions an obstacle during COVID

As to signatures, the referendum group had to begin the process of collecting signatures immediately since they were already into the 30 days allowed. With COVID-19 being a safety issue in interacting with people, the referendum committee arranged for a drive through petition signing to take place on July 11, 13 and 14 at Camp Tatiyee. On Friday, July 11, Lion’s Club International, who owns Camp Tatiyee and spoke in favor of the RV park at the first public hearing for Planning and Zoning, advised the group they would not be allowed to hold the drive through at the camp. In a quick action, the referendum group obtained permission to use the parking lot of The Atrium building on White Mountain Road for the drive through but could only use it for one day. In spite of the change, to date they have almost doubled the number of signatures needed. Even so, petition circulators continue to gather signatures which, when turned in, will have to be vetted to ensure they are registered voters within the town limits. Many who are in opposition to the rezone actually live in the county and not within the town limits.

Fuel to the fire

With so many in the community divided over this issue, it was further fueled on Saturday when people who use the trails within the 25.5 acres — which as Forest Service property they have used for years – discovered they were blocked off from their use. This happened on the same day the committee had to punt for a new drive through signing place when they were disallowed from doing so at Camp Tatiyee. In posts on various places on Facebook were photos of the blocked trails with comments. One comment written by Suzann Bingham said, “They had every intention of saving the trails for the public next to Vallery Ln. {sic} Family Fun Park and Camp Tatiyee. Blocked off every path area, took down the Forest Service trail sign, and barbwired the entrance shut. The private landowner has spoken.”

Reaching out to Cote in a response to the trail issue, in an email to the Independent, citing his responsibility as a property owner, Cote wrote, “Not all trails have been blocked. There are a number of trails the public still has access to from the Rim Trail parking area. Uncontrolled and unlimited access led to a number of negative outcomes. People were leaving trash on the property, there was destruction of private property, vandalism of trees, and destruction of habitat through the micro trail system created when people walk wherever they want off the main trails. New fencing I put up several weeks ago to direct public access had been torn down. There was a problem of using four-wheelers and other recreational vehicles in there.”

Blake said the Rim Road Trail or the Rim Trail which are the ones that most of the public use to access the property are not closed.

Cote also said he had reached out to the referendum group and they had not responded.

In speaking with Everett Peterson, president of the group, he said Cote had sent an email to he and Mardi Harris, the treasure of the group. Peterson said, “We felt no need to comment on the email. We ran it by the group and we decided not to respond because as far as we know we have not put out any misinformation. We pretty much understand. He said if it (rezone) does not go, it would be like Residential 1 acre lots, paved roads and we would lose trees.How can that be more than the 300 plus RVs on 25.5 acres? We decided not to reply. We do not want a verbal warfare.”

Cote was to have an interview with The Independent on Monday, July 13 but wrote that he would like to cancel the interview because “I want to study the outcome of this referendum petition.”

Others have joined in commenting on Facebook and asking people to step up and sign the petition. Resident Jim Beck, a long-time active voice in the community, posted on Facebook the following: “Residents of Pinetop-Lakeside. Were you upset when the Town allowed the new Hallmark plot of land to be clear cut with not one tree left standing? It seems the council strongly favors growth at any cost (they removed all the landscape protections that used to be in the zoning code). Well, they are at it again. Recently they approved land previously zoned ‘open space’. The land is next to Camp Tatiyee and the Family Fun Park. It is a forested section of land just like the land Hallmark was built on except much larger. The developer plans to build an RV park on a section of that property and later a strip mall along the 360 frontage. If you do not approve of such development there’s still time to help stop it by signing a referendum that is circulating, BUT, we would need your signature by Wednesday (the latest, 7/15/20). Message me and I’ll tell you how. Thanks.”

Monday, July 20, only three days away, will not tell the whole story, but if the signatures are validated, a referendum will take place, costing the town around $8,000.

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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