PINETOP-LAKESIDE — COVID-19 did not stop residents and neighbors of the Blue Spruce Heights subdivision from coming out on June 11 to once again object to approximately 26 acres on Vallery Lane being re-zoned from OS, Open Space/Park to RVP, Recreational Vehicle Park Zoning District. Though entry to the meeting was limited to 24 persons from the public, others waited outside either for their turn to enter or hoping to obtain information from those who had been inside. In the end, what the majority feared would happen did – the commission recommended the zoning change which will come before the town council for a vote on June 18.
Though the majority of people from the subdivision are labeled as being in the high risk group for COVID-19, they donned their masks or social distanced or (both) to repeat what they had already voiced to the town in person or by phone, email, letters or petition – that they do not want an RV park in their neighborhood for a host of reasons. Others who were hesitant to come out stayed at home and watched the meeting on Facebook which was made an option late in the day.
It was no surprise to the town or commissioners that there would be a number of persons requesting their five minutes to speak once the meeting opened up for the public hearing.
The first time residents came forward to comment was on Oct. 24, 2019 when they filled the council chambers to capacity. Unfortunately, on that date, Navajo County had sent its requirements for the zoning change just the day before the meeting and it was the consensus of the commission that the developer had not had enough time to address the recommended changes and voted to re-set the meeting for Dec. 12.
The Dec. 12 Planning and Zoning meeting was expected to have a repeat turnout of attendees, but prior to the meeting on the same day the developer withdrew his request. Town staff met people at the door advising them of the zoning change withdrawal since they believed most were coming for that one agenda item. As expected, most chose not to stay and left somewhat relieved.
When the June 1 letter went out to residents living within 300 feet of Vallery Lane advising that the Planning and Zoning Commission would be entertaining a re-zoning request again on Oct. 24 for the same near 26 acres from OS to RVP, many residents planned to re-appear to express their concerns, though some decided to forego attendance due to the cornonavirus.
Prior to opening up the meeting for public hearing comments, Chairman Adam Staley requested Community Development Director Cody Blake to deliver a summary regarding the rezoning issue.
Blake said, “This is the third time we are bringing this issue back to you. It has changed multiple times since the first time that it came here. Originally they were going to have an entrance off Vallery Lane and then, due to planes and the county’s requirements, they changed that and then wanted to try to come in off the commercial property that’s to the east, with those property owners. That kind of fell apart with those property owners. They went back to the drawing board and had a meeting with Brett Cote, who is the property owner, and they did receive a 50 foot easement off of White Mountain Boulevard to be able to access this property.”
Blake added that the information was given to Navajo County who came back with only two comments. One was that they must have a one foot, no vehicular easement put across the southern boundary to prevent any entrances coming off of Vallery Lane, and that needs to have a 24 foot break for emergency vehicles and utilities. Blake said the developer will gate it and lock it with only fire and ambulance and utilities to have access. The second was that any future development not re-zoned at this time would have to be re-submitted for approval.
Blake offered further validation as to staff’s decision in recommending the approval of the re-zoing.
Referencing Annie DeRosier who runs the Visitor’s Center, Blake said the number one question they get from visitors is, “We want to come back. We want to bring our RV, where can we stay?”
Blake said though there are other RV parks in the area, there is none in the incorporated limits of the town.
Blake said, “As a staff we do feel this is a quality project and we do feel that the location of it is good. The impact to the environment is reduced. If a housing project was going in there, they would move a whole lot more trees than what he is going to remove. They are going to want it to be beautiful. They will want it to be treed and spaces where they can go and be, that are pretty. If it is not pretty, they are not going to want to stay there.”
Blake said he wanted to address some of the issues that have been brought up in letters they have received. Lighting is one issue which is moot due to the fact that the town has a lighting ordinance to prevent light pollution; noise – the town has a noise ordinance, and regarding access to property, he said that coming in off of White Mountain Boulevard is sufficient. He added that a traffic study was done and submitted to ADOT for approval.
Blake said the RV park has the potential to help town business with the people coming into the town. He said approval is recommended with the exceptions that no permanent residences can be in the park and no skirting or decks can be added, as the park will be seasonal.
Developer James Gappmayer of GJR Properties of Tucson introduced himself saying he was there to answer any questions the commission may have.
“We have tried to appease or please everyone we could,” said Gappmayer. “That’s why we changed it three times trying to be a good neighbor. We just want it to be a nice RV park.”
Before citizens began to speak, Staley commented, “As a commission we have taken this matter seriously from day one.” I believe all of us have reviewed all of the letters that are provided.”
Thirteen people came to the podium following Gappmayer. Some were residents, and some from the Lion’s Club that run Camp Tatiyee. Two of the thirteen said they were in favor of the development but the others expressed concerns in addition to the ones that Blake had addressed. Concerns ranged from crime, unleashed and barking animals, traffic, construction disruption, a family park versus an adult park, tree removal, loss of open space, special needs children from the camp being adversely affected by the park, wildlife disappearing which they now enjoy, property values decreasing and the lifestyle they had built for retirement disappearing with an RV park in their midsts.
Included in the number that addressed the commission were Rob Ingels and Larry McCormick, both members of the People’s Vision Committee, a group of individuals dedicated to encouraging citizen participation within the Pinetop-Lakeside community with local government. They said they had spoken to the town in November 2019 regarding the rezoning, making various recommendations.
Ingels inquired as to whether or not the minutes from this meeting could be produced and approved in time for council to address the rezoning on June 18 or if they would just be tentative. He also expressed concerns regarding a site plan for the project and whether or not it would be in compliance with the town’s general plan. One of his major concerns dealt with the Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District and the inadequacy of the lift station, and the fact that the parcel is not within their jurisdiction and would have to be annexed.
McCormick said their major concern was that Planning and Zoning and the city play by the rules as set forth in the city charter and the land swap agreement with the Park Service. With regard to the Record of Decision which accompanied the Jan. 13, 2017 Environmental Impact Study, McCormick stated that it established that future development would be done in a measured manner while retaining the general forested, low-density character of this gateway property along State Route 260. He said, “I do not think an RV park is low density.” He also expressed concern for access to the trail system used by many hikers like himself.
Following all the speakers, Staley was careful to re-visit the major concerns expressed by the citizens and addressed each one by obtaining a response on them from Gappmayer and Blake. Staley also confirmed with Town Clerk Jill Akins that draft minutes would accompany the council packet for the June 18 council meeting.
Blake added a response to the statement by several citizens that many other available properties would be better suited for the RV park. He said the developer had sought out other locations but each had it owns set of issues that prevented him for moving forward with them.
Gappmayer returned to the podium to answer questions posed by the commission.
A vote was taken, with Alison Stewart abstaining since her real estate company represents the developer, and the recommendation to council is to approve the re-zoning with the stipulations of no permanent residences and no skirting or decks.
The June 18 council meeting will also be limited to 24 people.