PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Though there were seven items of business on the Aug. 20 council agenda, many of the people in attendance, as well as those watching the live stream on Facebook, were waiting to see if D. 6, a request by Brett Cote, BC2, LLC, to repeal the ordinance passed on June 18 granting Recreational Vehicle Park (RVP) zoning of his 25.5 acres on Vallery Lane, would be repealed. And, it was, unanimously, by the councilors who were present. Absent from the vote was Councilor Carla Bowen.
Without the fanfare of a packed council chambers and citizens repeatedly weighing in on the issue — a scenario which repeated itself from the first Planning and Zoning meeting of Oct. 24, 2019, up to the July 18 approval by council of the change from Open Space (OS) to RVP — the Aug. 20 repeal took less than six minutes.
The July 18 zone change approval was the catalyst for a group of citizens to form the Citizen for Quality Development Committee. The reasons for disagreeing with the zone change ranged from such concerns as noise and lighting issues to traffic and emergency evacuation, access to hiking trails, density and the town’s general plan.
The referendum committee immediately began the formal collection of signatures to bring the matter before the voters for a referendum vote. With 2,727 active registered voters within the town limits, 109 signatures were required.
Twenty-five sheets of signatures were collected and turned in before the deadline and Town Clerk Jill Akins notified the committee on July 22 that 263 of the 325 signatures, or 23 of the referendum petitions, were eligible for verification.
On Aug. 13 the town forwarded a random sampling of those petitions to the Navajo County Recorder’s office for further verification. Town Manager Keith Johnson told The Independent, the Recorder’s office has until Sept. 3 to complete a review of the random sampling of signatures. Though the town had already received the request for repeal, Johnson said they advised the county they were moving forward with the process at this time. Following final verification, the county attorney would make the determination as to whether or not there would be a mail vote on the issue to the citizens within the town limits of Pinetop-Lakeside.
Johnson had already determined if there was a vote it would not make the general election on Nov.3 but would be a mail ballot likely to take place in January 2021. The town had also determined the cost would be around $8,000, based on the cost of a 2015 referendum. In the FY2020-2021 budget, they set aside $15,000 in the contingency fund should a referendum occur.
Community Development Director Cody Blake said, “There’s not a whole lot to add to this. When we informed Mr. Cote that there had been enough signatures collected to cause a referendum in the town and force a vote of the people, he consulted with his attorney and has decided to ask the council to repeal their decision for the zone change at this time.”
There were no questions or comments from the council, but People’s Voice Committee (PVC) member Rob Ingels, also part of the referendum committee, did request to speak before the vote. He had already spoken earlier about the town’s General Plan at Call to the Public.
PVC is a group of concerned citizens who encourage citizen and government conversation to arrive at the best possible options for the community and are not opposed to development but that want to ensure the general plan is followed.
Ingels read the following statement which he said PVC prepared before the Aug. 20 meeting.
“The town council’s action (repeal of the zoning ordinance) precedes the formal verification of signatures gathered by the Citizens for-Quality Development, a political action committee, for a referendum of the town council’s 18 June 2020 ordinance. PVC commends them and their volunteers for their commitment to gathering signatures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to challenge the rezoning ordinance. We likewise commend the town (and landowner) for repealing the ordinance to avert a costly and potentially divisive special election.
“PVC does not view the Town Council’s repeal of the ordinance as a victory or an end to the RVP rezoning dispute. Rather, we view it as a starting point and an opportunity for improved dialog and cooperation among the town staff, the property owner, and citizens regarding this parcel and the remainder of the Camp Tatiyee exchange parcel still needing to be rezoned for development.”
The Independent had reached out to Cote earlier regarding the repeal and in an email reply he stated, “Thank you for contacting me for an opportunity to respond.”
Neither Cote nor James Gappmayer of GJR Development who contracted with Cote to purchase the 25.5 acres for an RV Park contingent upon the rezoning of the property, were present at the meeting.
According to Johnson, the town has been reviewing its zoning designations which were put in place when the town was incorporated in 1984. At that time, the town compared their new zoning codes to those of the county and applied the town code which was the closest match to that of the county.
With OS designation just for Forest Service property, or at the request of a property owner, a new question arises, “What actually is the designation of Cote’s property?”