By now, most Pinetop-Lakeside voters have received their publicity pamphlet for the upcoming special election, with ballots arriving this week.
This referendum involves rezoning of one parcel within the 344-acre Camp Tatiyee Land Exchange tract at the “gateway” to our town. We urge voters to read the arguments, as this issue involves not just the rezoned parcel but also the larger 344-acre tract. The first two sentences of Mayor Irwin’s argument encapsulates much of the frustration many citizens have with the rezoning.
The Mayor states “In 2018 after 20 years of negotiations, public comment, and serious consideration the 344 acres commonly known as Camp Tatiyee parcel was exchanged from forest service to private ownership. With private ownership comes the right to change the use of the land.”
Yet, the Forest Service in its official Record of Decision for the exchange acknowledged the considerable public concern over how the parcel would be developed, stipulating “any rezoning would follow appropriate processes and ordinances of the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside and include opportunity for public involvement, and any development is expected to be gradual and similar to the low-density of the surrounding area” (emphasis added).
The first thing the town did was approve rezoning of 40 acres as commercial with minimal public knowledge much less involvement, and meager analysis required by town code. Soon after, it began the process to rezone 25.5 acres as RV Park over vigorous neighbor and citizen concerns, again with meager analysis required in Town Code. And after this rezoning was initially approved leading citizens to mount their first referendum, the Town rushed to approve rezoning of another 10 acres as commercial without any analysis whatsoever, violating town code and prompting even its Planning and Zoning Commission to balk. So, with the Forest Service giving citizens expectations and hope that the town would pursue thoughtful and measured development, the reality has been anything but.
We agree that “with private ownership comes the right to change the use of the land” and respect the right to develop consistent with the current zoning (low density residential). But owners do not have a right (but a privilege) to rezoning which confers tremendous value. They must first follow the Town Code analysis requirements and the 2015 voter-approved General Plan requiring a major plan amendment for “any proposal that substantially alters the mixture or balance of land uses, which is fifty gross acres or greater….” With the 344-acre tract (largest non-federal one in town) being carved into smaller pieces with no conceptual planning or major plan amendment to analyze rezoning considerations (or require owners to assist with infrastructure) the town is further failing to fulfill Forest Service and citizen expectations.
Make a difference and vote!