PINETOP-LAKESIDE — Many sat at their computers on Tuesday, Nov. 2 waiting for 8 p.m. for the Navajo County mail in election results regarding the 6.2 acres approved by council on April 15 from Rural Residential (R-Low) to Recreational Vehicle Park (RVP). The voters said no to the rezone in a 624 to 275 vote.
Though this was a highly contested issue, only 30.82% of the 2,917 registered voters weighed in on the zoning approval which would bring an RV Park to Pinetop-Lakeside.
Many of those who voiced their concerns at the public hearings and the calls to the public at the planning and zoning and council meetings did not live within the town limits and were not able to vote on the issue. They also could not sign the referendum petitions but many of them helped with the circulation of the petitions.
The Nov. 2 mail in ballot came about when the Citizens for Quality Development (CQD) filed a successful petition for a referendum regarding the council’s approval for RVP zoning on Vallery Lane.
The CQD was formed in 2020 following the town council’s June 18, 2020 approval of 25.5 acres on Vallery Lane from Open Space (OS) to RVP. That zoning request was made by property owner BC2 on behalf of GJR Properties, LLC who planned to purchase the property contingent upon a rezone for an RV park.
During the height of the pandemic, CQD easily collected 325 signatures regarding the 25.5 acres that was approved for rezone and 263 of those signatures were deemed eligible after the vetting process.
A January 2020 mail ballot was to take place so the residents could have their say on the 25.5 acres. Before that could occur, BC2 asked the town to repeal the zoning decision and on Aug. 20, 2020 council approved the repeal.
Many hoped that was the end of the RV Park when BC2 withdrew, but GJR purchased 40 acres from BC2 and made their own request on Jan. 7 for only 6.2 of the acreage to be rezoned to RVP.
Following GJR’s request, an informational meeting for the rezone request was held on Feb. 25 in hopes of answering citizens’ objections and clarifying their plans for the RV Park. The council chambers were filled to capacity with people from the town and community that surrounded the would-be RV park. This meeting was set prior to the March 25 Planning and Zoning meeting when the rezone request would be heard.
The March 25 meeting heard from only a few citizens who reiterated previous objections that ranged from traffic issues, to people wandering into neighborhoods, lighting and noise issues, safety issues regarding evacuation, danger for the kids at Camp Tatiyee and Camp Grace and more. The commissioners voted that night to recommend council approve the 6.2 acre rezone and on April 15, council unanimously voted to approve the rezone.
It was not a surprise that following the April 15 approval, CQD submitted an application for another referendum petition. They began collecting signatures on April 23.
With 2,727 registered voters at that time, COD was again required to get 109 valid signatures. They collected 256 and turned them in to Town Clerk Jill Akins on May 14. Five were disqualified due to duplication, a wrong date and addresses not completed correctly, bringing the accepted total to 251.
A sampling of 13 signatures were submitted to Navajo County on May 19 and on May 25 Navajo County found them to be qualified voters.
The election was set for Nov. 2 as a ballot by mail only election.
A call for arguments was posted and a pamphlet was mailed out to all registered voters regarding the proposition.
Voters were advised that the last day to register for the mail in vote was Oct. 4.
The CQD mailed out post cards during the week of Oct. 4 to coincide with the ballots mailed out by Navajo County. The post cards, in essence, reminded voters their vote mattered and asked them to consider certain rezoning issues which they articulated on the card.
Signs by GJR Properties asking for a YES vote and signs by CQD asking for a NO vote were posted throughout the Pinetop-Lakeside area prior to the vote.
Heavy voting was not expected, but 899 people chose to say with their vote that they wanted or did not want an RV Park in Pinetop-Lakeside.
The morning after the election, Nov. 3, the Independent queried the town, the developer, and the CQD.
Town Manager Keith Johnson did not have a comment.
The Independent reached out by phone to Developer James Gappmayer of GJR Properties, the primary spokesperson for the RV Park group, but he did not respond by press time.
Pinetop-Lakeside Mayor Stephanie Irwin said, “We are obviously disappointed. I feel the message being sent to potential developers is that they are not wanted, from the perspective if we need another grocery store or another business. We have worked really hard over the past five years to create a business friendly atmosphere. I feel like this is another nail in the coffin and makes our job really hard.”
The CQD group did have a number of comments and submitted them to the Independent by email.
“Thanks to all Pinetop-Lakeside voters who voted and for the good turnout. Thanks for caring about our community.” — CQD Chairman Everett Peterson:
“Thank you for such positive voter turnout. Supporting and protecting OUR citizens quality of life is much appreciated.” — Rob Ingels
“A very grateful Thank You to our registered Pinetop/Lakeside residents who voted NO for the RV Park location to preserve and protect our community.” — CQD Treasurer Mardi Harris
“You can fight for what is right.” — Suzann Bingham
“As a member of the Pinetop Lions Club and as President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter in the White Mountains of AZ; I was gratified to see the resounding defeat by voters, of this ill considered proposal! The risk of harm to the vulnerable campers of Camp Tatiyee far outweighs any financial benefit to the citizens of P/L.” — Ralph Engler, petitioner.
Inquiring if the RV Park scenario could be repeated with other sections of GJR’s property, or if the 6.2 acres remaining as R-Low will be residential housing, Town Clerk Jill Akins said, “It is up to the developer.”