Flexing its muscle as one of Oro Valley's largest employers, Ventana Medical Systems has notified the town that it has put its expansion plans on hold pending resolution of its concerns regarding rezoning for homes and the location of a school near its operations.
"Our decision to locate our North American operations and corporate headquarters in Oro Valley was largely based on an understanding that our 39.5-acre property parcel was part of a much larger planned industrial site focused on attracting high tech and research-based organizations," Ventana Vice President Michael Gaul wrote June 7 to the Planning and Zoning Commission and town leaders. "We are now concerned that the town is considering rezoning for residential housing and schools a section of this larger industrial and open space. It is our opinion that our manufacturing, R&D and commercial activities should not be encroached upon by residential or school properties.
"Ventana Medical is a $1 billion market cap enterprise with near-term growth potential for annual sales of between $500 million and $1 billion. As our growth continues, we expect to approach 1,000 highly-paid employees (up from more than 400 currently in Oro Valley) at our manufacturing, research and development and worldwide administrative offices in Oro Valley.
"While we are confident that you will take all constituencies into account in reaching your decision with respect to this rezoning, please understand that your decision will impact our future development. Accordingly, we are placing our current expansion plans on hold pending resolution of this matter. In addition, we will seek concessions from the developers on the parcels where construction has already begun and upon which we were not advised or consulted," the letter read.
Ventana officials refused to comment on the letter.
The activities of concern to Ventana are proposals for home construction by Monterey Homes on 72 lots in Rancho Vistoso, a quarter mile east from the intersection of Oracle Road and Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, the possibility for construction of from 27 to 36 homes on 4.5 acres at the end of Vistoso Village Drive, east of Innovation Park Drive and possible future construction of a middle school for the Amphitheater School District.
Gaul's letter from Ventana notes: "Ventana Medical has tried to be a good corporate citizen and partner to the town of Oro Valley and both our company and the town have benefited from this relationship. We are growing at better than 20 percent per year and have created 113 new jobs since arriving in Oro Valley. Ventana is active in the community, both on boards and by sponsoring local community events and will be the start-finish line for next year's Oro Valley marathon.
"This is an important issue to our company and we would like to request that we have the opportunity to weigh in and comment on any further actions in any parcel within the commercial/high tech areas whose boundaries include the area within the Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, Big Wash, Oracle Road and Tangerine Road."
Bill Adler, a member of the town's Board of Adjustment, said Ventana's anger was a result of not being notified by the town of the change in land uses from commercial to residential that were approved. The land has changed hands from Vistoso Partners to Cottonwood Properties to Monterey Homes.
"Ventana was blindsided," Adler said. "They didn't know anything about residential uses until the grading began."
Town officials have been attempting to mediate Ventana's concerns since the letter went out.
Jeff Weir, the town's economic development director, said discussions are currently underway to negate residential land uses on the Monterey property or the possible purchase by Ventana of the property for future expansion.
Calls to Monterey Homes were not returned.
Weir would not comment on how it came to be Ventana wasn't notified of the changes in land uses that were taking place nearby, only to say those problems will be resolved "one way or another."
Since the letter was sent, Vistoso Partners has withdrawn its request for a General Plan amendment to change the land use designation on the 4.5 acres from commerce park to residential, a change that could have led to rezoning for 27 to 36 homes.
"Vistoso Partners has agreed to withdraw its request for a General Plan amendment," said Dick Maes, Vistoso general manager.
"We want Ventana to be an active member in our campus industrial park and we've encouraged that as much as we can. If Ventana feels it's against its well being, we respect that."
Maes said Vistoso only sought the change because Monterey was building homes nearby and felt what they would be doing would be a compatible use. "We highly respect Ventana Medical," he said. "We sold them their property and wouldn't want to do anything to interfere with their well being."
The 35-acre school site, east and south of Ventana, is a byproduct of an agreement reached between Vistoso Partners and the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 2002 when Vistoso Partners was seeking to annex Neighborhood 12 in Rancho Vistoso.
Unlike the Monterey Homes and Vistoso Partners properties, there would be no change in land uses from commercial to residential since the proposed school site is currently zoned for open space, said Todd Jaeger, assistant to the superintendent at Amphi.
At the time the site was agreed upon, "we had been looking for school sites for some time," Jaeger said.
"We feel this site is suitable to that purpose and although the state Schools Facilities Board estimates that such a school may not be needed for five to 10 years, we're hoping to make a submission to the board demonstrating an earlier need."
Weir said the district has agreed to look at alternative sites following the concerns raised by Ventana.