PINETOP-LAKESIDE – The majority of the people who attended the June 18 council meeting were there for a last ditch effort in hopes of dissuading the council of accepting Planning and Zoning’s recommendation to approve 25.5 acres on Vallery Lane from Open Space (OS) to Recreational Vehicle Park (RVP) status.
The evening ended with their worst fears being realized as the city council voted to approve the zoning change with stipulations. But, even before community residents exited the town hall building there were rumblings of the R word - referendum.
The rezoning issue of the Vallery Lane property has been the subject of conversation in the community since property owners within 300 feet of the 25.5 acres on Vallery Lane were first alerted to the property owner’s intent in a September 2019 letter from the Community Development Department. With each meeting delay or withdrawal of the application, residents were granted new hope but knew the issue was still lurking in the background.
The first planning and zoning meeting was set for Oct. 24, 2019 and council chambers were filled to capacity. That meeting had to be postponed due to last minute requirements received by the town and the developer from Navajo County. The next meeting, on Dec. 12, was null and void in that the developer withdrew his application due to access issues. A June 1 letter notified residents of a June 11 meeting and a new RV access point off of White Mountain Boulevard. After hearing from 13 people in the public hearing, most against the rezoning, commissioners voted to recommend that council approve the zone change with the stipulations that the park have no permanent residences and no skirting or decks allowed.
On June 18, the council meeting and public hearing to determine the rezoning began with Community Development Director Cody Blake offering an explanation of RVP zoning, followed by an attempt to answer questions the town had received either by phone, letter or email. Eight citizens spoke that evening at the public hearing and Councilor Jim Snitzer, a former planning and zoning commissioner, announced that the issues citizens were speaking to were actually site plan issues and not legal issues that would provide council reasons to vote down the rezone. Snitzer suggested that if the rezone passed that the site plan issue be brought back to the council for review rather than planning and zoning which is the norm. Mayor Stephanie Irwin said there had been discussion of that.
Property owner Brett Cote spoke at the June 18 council meeting and said that he believes with the Family Fun Park and the Maverick Center that the RV park is the best use of the 25.5 acres and that the developer James Gappmayer is the right purchaser.
In the end, council approved the rezone with stipulations that no one could occupy an RV space for more than nine months and that no skirting or outbuildings would be allowed.
Citizens were not satisfied with the town answers or the final decision. The bottom line consensus is that they do not want an RV Park in their neighborhood for the same reasons they expressed in the public hearings which range from property devaluation, density, traffic, fire evacuation, lights, noise and concern for the youth that attend Camp Tatiyee and Camp Grace.
According to Town Clerk Jill Akins, there are 2,727 active registered voters in Pinetop-Lakeside. Many residents who are vocal on this issue do not actually live within the town limits but do have a Pinetop or Lakeside address. Those persons are county residents and cannot vote on town issues or sign the petition.
With 30 days from the date the ordinance was signed to get 109 signatures on the referendum petition, citizens Suzann Bingham and Mardi Harris began the complicated process to get the ball rolling. They formed the Citizens for Quality Development Committee of which Everett Peterson is chair and Mardi Harris is treasurer. Their deadline for turning in the petition is July 20. Due to COVID-19 issues and in the interest of public safety the committee has set up a drive through petition for signing at Camp Tatiyee on Saturday, July 11, Monday, July 13, and Tuesday, July 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A private citizen also has created a Facebook page explaining the petition at Facebook.com/groups/whitemountain preservation and a website at https://www.change.org/p/pinetop-lakeside-planning-zoning-commission-save-white-mountains-from-developers.
Town Manager Keith Johnson said, “There is a lot of incorrect information out there.” On July 6, he told the Independent that he would be addressing that misinformation in his “Talk of the Town,” which has now been posted on the town’s Facebook page as a special message. The introduction to his letter begins with, “This letter was sent by the town manager to a citizen to answer their questions about the development of an RV park in Lakeside and since there is a referendum petition being distributed, we felt it would be good for our citizens to know both sides of the story. There has been a lot of misinformation about the RV park that was recently approved by the Town’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Council, and hopefully, I can address your concerns and help you be assured that this RV park won’t diminish your neighborhood.”
Johnson said that should the petitions meet the requirements for a referendum, it will not be in time for the November general election but would be a special mail ballot. The cost to the town for such a referendum, based on one done in 2015, would be around $8,000.
The 25.5 acres is privately owned by Cote and was part of the Forest Service Exchange which occurred two years ago totaling 344 acres. The sale of this property to GJR Development for the RV Park was contingent upon the rezoning of the parcel.
According to the opening statement of the Rationale for Referendum, "The Forest Service's Record of Decision (ROD) established the charter of the gateway property along White Mountain Boulevard. Density is one of the main issues cited by the concerned citizens along with the People's Voice Committee (PVC). The Town’s General Plan Official Zoning Map listed this parcel as “forested” open space/park. Any changes to the zoning map require that Town Code 17.128 be followed, and changes >(more than) 50 acres require a Major Amendment to the General Plan. "
The People’s Voice Committee Chairman Larry McCormick says they met with Johnson and Blake last year when the rezone issue first appeared and encouraged them to have a community meeting to discuss the issues.He said it did not happen, but Johnson says the developer met with many of the people on Vallery Lane. On the RV park rezone, PVC is united in the belief that the town should follow the general plan and that the best use of the 25.5 acres is not an RV park. They believe the issue should not have been rushed through but more consideration given to issues such as the traffic study which only dealt with the 6.25 acres ADOT ruled on rather than the entire 25.5.
The People’s Voice Committee 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 want to ensure that the general plan is followed.