PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Following the June 18 council meeting and the approval of a rezone of 25.5 acres from Open Space (OS) to Recreational Vehicle Park (RVP) status, two citizens made their way to town hall the following day to find out what they needed to do to begin a referendum.

Referendum petitions filed early

Beating the deadline for filing their petitions for a referendum regarding the 25.5 acres on Vallery Lane rezoned from OS to RVP, the Citizens for Quality Development turned in 25 petitions on July 16 from Pinetop-Lakeside voters,totaling 325 signatures. Next step: the signatures will now go to Navajo County for verification.

Information was not available until June 22, but on that date they formed the Citizens for Quality Development Committee and were issued the required serial number to begin the process.

Less than one month later on July 16, at 10:30 a.m., the committee turned in 25 pages of signatures to Town Clerk Jill Akins, not only beating the deadline, but exceeding the required number of signatures by 216.

The rezone process for the 25.5 acres began last October when property owner Brett Cote, BC2, LLC, applied for a zoning change from OS to RVP. The property is part of the 344 acres which was part of the Forest Service Land Exchange which occurred in 2018. GJR Development contracted to buy the 25.5 acres 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 The Dec. 12 meeting sent residents back home before the meeting even began when the rezoning request was withdrawn.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.

On 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.

Referendum talk had already begun before many left the building that evening.

Leading the referendum charge as president of the referendum committee is retired educator Everett Peterson and Mardi Harris, a retired school counselor who is treasurer. Group member Suzann Bingham, an educator, worked with Peterson and Harris as they all muddled through the eleven folders of instructions they obtained from Akins, totaling 109 pages. Muddled through because some of the information is for a city or town and some for the state — a lot of legalese.

Though the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside has been through a number of referendums over the years, Akins told the Independent that the process is new to her and Town Manager Keith Johnson. The instructions are precise and have to be followed to the letter.

With the backgrounds of the two school educators and a school counselor they understand detailed directions. Harris said originally they were told they had to pay $200 and their deadline would be July 17. They discovered there was no fee to be filed and they were later told the deadline would be July 20. To ensure they did not miss the deadline due to the two different dates given, they opted to get the petitions in early.

Working in a COVID environment, the task of obtaining signatures was somewhat difficult.

With 2,727 active registered voters within the towns of Pinetop and Lakeside, they brainstormed to find a way to safely obtain signatures. They set up a three-day drive through petition signing at Camp Tatiyee, July 11, 13 and 14. The day before the first drive through, they Lions Club International, who owns Camp Tatiyee, advised them they could not hold the event on the camp property.

Moving swiftly they were able to set up at The Atrium on White Mountain Boulevard. It was not as successful as they believed the drive through would have been due to safe distancing issues. Following, they did go door-to-door as well as network with others in the community.

The signatures can only be those of registered voters living within the town limits. Though many of the people affected by the rezone wanted to sign the petition, they live in the county and not within the town limits, so are disqualified. Because they have a Pinetop or Lakeside address, many people are unaware that they are not town residents. With that understanding, the referendum circulators made that clear to the people signing, but in case someone was in error of their status, the group worked harder to triple the 109 required signatures.

Each petition had to have the serial number on it, along with Ordinance No. 20-433 attached to it. Page one is where the petitioner signed with their name, address, zip code and town. There is space for 15 signatures.

On the back of page one is instructions for the circulator and the affidavit the circulator had to sign in the presence of a notary, attesting they were present for each signature.

Armed with a labeled banker’s box which contained new legal file folders with the circulators name on each folder, in alphabetical order, all facing in the same direction, Peterson, Harris and Bingham — after making copies and triple-checking everything — went to town hall to turn them in.

There was no room available to meet since they did not have an appointment, but Johnson and Akins took the petitions to the back and counted them and provided a receipt.

The town now has 20 days to get the banker’s box and its contents to the Navajo County Recorder’s office. If all the paperwork is in order and at least 109 signatures validated, registered voters in the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside will decide if the RVP zoning stays or will revert back to its current status of OS. According to Johnson, if the referendum does go, it will not make the general election in November but will be a mail ballot and cost to the town will be around $8,000.

Peterson told the Independent in an earlier conversation that Cote told him if the RVP did not remain, the property would end up being residential one acre lots with paved roads.

As treasurer, Harris also has to file a treasurer’s report for the referendum. To ensure it was correct she obtained assistance from the general counsel for the League of Cities and Towns who walked her through the process. It was due on July 15 but she turned it in early to Akins on July 13. Another report listed as required from the treasurer is the Pre-Election report. The attorney from The League told her to check with the town since some required it and some did not. Harris said Akins told her they did not.

It should be noted that not everyone who signed the petition is against the RVP but is willing to let the voters decide.

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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