Zoning battles begin again in Pima County - Tucson News Now

Zoning battles begin again in Pima County

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When the bottom fell out of the housing market, the notorious zoning wars came to an abrupt halt in Pima County.

Who can forget the legendary battles over the pygmy owl, land preservation and open space.

In 2001, Pima County amended its Comprehensive Land Use Plan to tighten its control over who built where and how much.

That all went quiet for the past seven years or so during the housing recession.

But now that the housing industry is seeing a resurgence, the county is beginning to see some cases come forward.

But these are somewhat different.

Instead of large parcels, these are small, 18 to 50 acre parcels.

Instead of mega-developments, these are what's known as infill, smaller parcels in already developed suburban areas.

Infill is something the county has encouraged in the past because of the high cost of infrastructure and utilities.  

Even though they may be smaller, these parcels are still subject to open space and preservation requirements laid out in the Comprehensive Plan.

In some case, 60% to 80% of the parcel may have to be set aside as open space to protect habitat and species.

It's easy to see why, for a developer, it would be difficult to build enough homes or retail to make it worth while.

The first case to come before the planning commission and the county board of supervisors involves four parcels on the Northwest side.

It's a plan the zoning commission has recommended denial but county staff has recommended approval.

Developers want to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow for rezoning for higher densities.

The County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has worked out a deal which would call for mitigation on one parcel instead of all four.

It's not unusual for off site mitigation to satisfy the plan requirements.

But this one is receiving some pushback from residents and conservationists.

"It sets a bad precedent," says Carolyn Campbell, who represents the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection.,

The developers told the board recently they have no plans to build at a higher density than is already prevalent in the area. 

But some homeowners are not so sure.

Their home developments were built before the 2001 changes in the comprehensive plan.

"What guarantee do we have," says Kathy Delecke, who owns a home bordering one of the parcels. "I'm afraid of two or three story apartments behind me and the increased noise.

"This is real personal to everybody," says Arlan Colton, the Pima County Planning Director. "Every party has a personal stake in this."

The Pima County Board will hold a public hearing on the plan change next week. It's been wrestling with the issue for the past few months without a resolution.

Where that resolution might end up is still anyone's guess.

"Working with these folks, working together really to find an amenable solution is the best policy" says Colton. "But it doesn't always work that way." 

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