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.

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.

(2) comments

Brett cote

Hello White Mountain Community. There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding regarding the recent rezoning of the 25.5 acres of land that is the subject of the current referendum petition. I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself and provide an accurate summary of the history of the land. I appreciate in advance you taking the time to read this statement.

My name is Brett Cote, and I am the Manager and an Owner of BC2, LLC, the company that owns this property. I took over the management of BC2, LLC, when my father, Bob Cote, passed away three years ago. We are a Tucson family that has been in Arizona since the 1950s. I grew up hunting in the White Mountains with my Dad and friends, and the area has been special to my family; anyone who knows me would describe me as an avid outdoorsman, hunter, and conservationist.

As many of you know, the land in question used to be owned by the US Forest Service; the US Forest Service also owned the land that Camp Tatiyee and Camp Grace are on, and the camps were able to operate on Forest Service land with special-use permits. Years ago, the Forest Service indicated an intent to no longer manage that land, which jeopardized the long-term future of the Camps. The Lions Foundation of Arizona wanted to acquire ownership of the Camp Tatiyee land in order to secure the Camp’s future, and needed a partner. BC2, LLC, owned land that the Forest Service wanted, and joined with the Lions Foundation of AZ to complete a Forest Service Exchange. There is a great article in the White Mountain Independent from 2007 that explains the history of this joint venture here: https://www.wmicentral.com/news/pinetop_lakeside/forest-service-considering-camp-tatiyee-land-exchange/article_6c5deff2-f98a-5036-b297-3a5114b42178.html.

The Forest Exchange process was lengthy and arduous, taking more than 20 years, but the outcome was successful. The Lions Foundation of Arizona now owns the Camp Tatiyee property and, as part of the exchange, BC2, LLC, acquired the land that Camp Grace operates on. BC2, LLC, then sold the Camp Grace land to its original owner at appraised value. Camp Grace now owns its land and the Lions Foundation of Arizona owns the Lions Camp Tatiyee land; each organization has control of their future. Also, the Rim trail has been protected with an easement.

In exchange for other property that BC2, LLC, traded in the Forest Service Exchange process, the 25.5 acres at the heart of this petition is now private property owned by BC2, LLC. When the land was Forest Service land, it was designated as Open Space. There seems to be confusion that Open Space means public property or property with unrestricted access, it does not. The land was conveyed out of the Forest Service as unrestricted private property; a public easement was reserved for the Rim Trail parking area and the paved portion of the Rim Trail only. As unrestricted private property, BC2, LLC, could fence the entire remaining area, build a home for every one-acre site (including putting in paved roads), and prohibit all other trail access – all without rezoning. This is not our intent, I only mention it to rebut a few of the inaccurate claims that have circulated. BC2, LLC, has all the rights of a private property owner, regardless of the zoning designation.

Putting together the real estate offered to the Forest Service represented a lifetime of real estate efforts by my family. When choosing to sell part of this land, we do so with careful thought and deliberation. We believe the RV Park will be both a benefit to the community and adjacent landowners; in fact, I will be an adjacent landowner to the RV park, that is how comfortable I am with the proposal. The RV Park has a smaller physical impact than a one-acre housing development, and brings much need sales tax revenue to the town. I have worked with the RV developer on this project to address logistics and community concerns. The road access is off of Highway 260, there is residential buffer along Vallery lane, and the development is more that 1400 feet from Camp Tatiyee buildings.

BC2, LLC, has strived to be a good partner and community member; as part of the exchange we donated property to the Lions Foundation of Arizona, we are in current discussions with the town to donate Rim Trail land, we created a 110-foot buffer between Camp Tatiyee and the adjacent parcel, and we have continued to allow public access to what is now private property. I believe trails and development can coexist and be mutually beneficial.

Sincere Regards,

Brett Cote

lovewhitemountains

Due to circumstances outside of our control, Camp Tatiyee is not being permitted to host the petition signing for Citizens for Quality Development this Saturday. This is for the referendum to submit the recent rezoning of a 25.5 acre tract between Valerie Lane and Camp Tatiyee. The new location for the signing will be at The Atrium, this Saturday, July 11th, 2020, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. The Atrium is located at:

4830 AZ-260

Lakeside, AZ 85929

The scheduled signings for the following Monday and Tuesday, have been cancelled. For this reason, we have extended the hours for the signing on Saturday.

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