"The view is what sold these homes and what people paid for," said Donna Heidinger, secretary of the La Canada - Magee Neighborhood Association.
On March 31, anticipating its upcoming annexation of the intersection at Oracle and Magee roads and the surrounding area, the town of Oro Valley entered into a pre-annexation development agreement allowing developer B.P. Magee, LLC, an affiliate of Bourn Partners LLC, to build to a height of 30 feet.
The agreement undid a 1995 Pima County condition limiting building height on the 40 acres at the southwest corner of Oracle and Magee roads to a maximum of 25 feet or lower elevations negotiated by concerned neighbors along Northern Avenue.
"Bourn had already submitted its development plan to the county and all of a sudden the activity stopped dead," said Heidinger. "Oro Valley needed the parcel and Bourn had the opportunity to get out of the building height restriction."
On Sept. 3, in a 4-1 vote with Councilmember Paula Abbott the lone dissenter, the Oro Valley Town Council adopted translational zoning of the area from the county's CB-1 (local business) and TR (transitional) zoning to C-2 (commercial business), the town's nearest equivalent.
Translational zoning is strictly an administrative act covering densities and uses as required by state statute so that towns can enforce their own zoning on newly annexed areas.
Nonetheless, a handful of neighbors asked the town council to carry over the county's height condition as part of the translational zoning or at least postpone the issue for further discussion.
"We should have been part of the negotiations for the pre-annexation agreement," Heidinger said. "We know this is just business, but it's a shame. If we had been invited we wouldn't have had to go in like this."
Oro Valley spokesman Bob Kovitz said that the agenda for the March 31 pre-annexation meeting was posted and a complete agenda packet was available a week before the meeting. "And those agreements became essential to the annexation," he said. "Without them, the annexation mostly likely would not have succeeded."
In 1995, said Heidinger, the neighbors allowed the zoning to go commercial because they received a nice mitigation agreement. "Now, we don't have it anymore," she said. "That changes everything."
"We don't know what the fill will be," said Oral Kiser, a neighbor who lives along Northern Avenue across form the proposed development. "They could dig down 20 feet and still leave us a view."
"We will continue to work with the neighbors to find a balance," said Paul Schloss of Bourn Partners. "We will try to find some kind of middle ground."
A June 2003 "concept" for the property shows a wall of retail shops adjacent to Northern Avenue, which include a Bed, Bath & Beyond and a new Fry's supermarket. There is already an existing Fry's in the Entrada de Oro shopping center on the northern edge of the property.
"Fry's made a decision in December not to build a replacement store on the site, and at this point we can't say who the retailers will be," said Schloss. "But if Fry's were to do a 35,000-square-foot store with 16- or 17-foot ceilings, by the time you add the roof and the roof-mounted equipment, you can easily get in excess of 25 or 26 feet."
Asked about grading down the site to lower building heights, Schloss said that it already slopes 19 feet below the existing grade at Oracle Road. "It has to be accessible," he said. "If we drop it down too much the whole facility stops working.
"This is not arbitrary and it's not capricious," he said. "We'll try to have an outcome that works for everyone. This is a work in progress."
Schloss said he hopes that the development plan for the property will be submitted to the town of Oro Valley by Thanksgiving.
In other matters, the town announced a public meeting to be held Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. to hear public protest and objections to the Oracle Road Improvement District. Affected property owners will be notified of the meeting by mail.
The council also requested more information from staff regarding an invitation to make a presentation to the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee for its May 18 special bond election on open space.