A development plan for the 168-unit Legacy Apartments, off Tangerine Road and Dove Mountain Boulevard in north Marana, was originally considered so routine it was placed on the town council's consent agenda, where actions not needing further discussion are placed for blanket approval.
Then Dove Mountain residents caught wind of the plan Aug. 14, four days before the council's Aug. 18 meeting.
They rallied, brought about a 5 p.m. Tuesday meeting with Cottonwood Properties vice president Bill Hallinan, and filled more than 50 seats at Tuesday's 7 p.m. council meeting.
In the end, after the item was moved to the council's active agenda, and following sometimes-heated discussion, the plan to allow 12 2-story apartment buildings with 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments was passed by the town council 5-1, with Councilman Russell Clanagan casting the lone "no" vote. Vice Mayor Herb Kai was absent.
Before the council considered comment on the Legacy Apartments plan, the governing board went into closed session with attorney Frank Cassidy to discuss the matter.
"Rezoning for this development was approved as part of the specific plan amendment process" dating back to July 16, 2002, Cassidy said. The proposal is "moving forward pursuant to the zoning," he said.
"Normally, development plans don't come to council at all," Cassidy told the audience. "They're approved by staff. On this one, the developer said 'we are going to bring all development plans to council for approval.'"
The apartments would be built on 8.65 acres of land north of Tangerine Road and ¼-mile east of Dove Mountain Boulevard, sitting roughly between the Basha's grocery story and The Preserves housing development. They would occupy one of seven lots in a mixed use commercial subdivision approved by the town on July 21.
Zoning would have allowed buildings up to four stories, and 45 feet, in height. The proposal now includes two-story buildings up to 25 feet tall.
"We feel really good about the quality and character of this project," Hallinan told the council and audience. The project "fits the vision" for greater Dove Mountain. Cottonwood Properties is selling the land to The Legacy Apartments, LLC.
A 300-foot buffer would be protected as open space between residences and the apartment buildings. Hallinan said trees would be planted along the space.
Neighbors were nevertheless upset, in part with the project and in part with a process they felt left them unaware.
"I'm very disappointed in the fact this is a two-story building when we were deed-restricted to be one story," said Preserves resident Tom Taylor. He expects the buildings to block a view from his home. "In my opinion, this caused my property to go down in value," Taylor said.
Norman Fogle has "no objection to the project as it's designed. I do object to the process we've followed." He suggested a prior open hearing and public forum might have precluded controversy.
"We need the time to bring this out in the open, so we can have some transparency," Fogle said. "We don't have transparency, as they say in the public arena, with two days notice."
Local resident Richy Feinberg asked about rents, considering those rates an indicator of the quality of project. The developer has referred to the project as "luxury" apartments.
"I've heard 'luxury' a lot in my life," Feinberg said.
Dove Mountain is "a premier showcase" for Marana, with an estimated $900 million of real estate value, a major resort, world-class golf and more, he said.
"We like to keep an eye on this development," Feinberg said. "If you're going to have a major project impacting 3,000 people, plus or minus … it would be a good idea to let us know."
"These specific plans were done long before we were here," Fogle said.
Resident Randy Roberts insisted the apartments' traffic management plan would create "a life-threatening situation. How are you going to deal with this traffic?" Roberts asked. "You can't stick a stop sign in a residential neighborhood. It's wrong, it's dangerous."
Marana has conducted a traffic impact study, requiring east- and west-bound turn lanes off Tangerine Road.
Dove Mountain resident and real estate agent Larry Steckler, who ran for the Marana Town Council earlier this year, had the sharpest criticism for the council and town government. He urged a vote against the development plan, "which until just a few minutes ago was tucked into the consent agenda, presumably hoping no one would notice."
The project would have 'a drastic effect on property values of all the homes that face back onto the apartments," Steckler said. Residents paid a premium for those views.
Steckler showed a photograph of a flag atop a pole where the apartments would stand, and said if they are built, Preserves residents would be "looking right into the windows of those second-story apartments."
Steckler decried "the absolute betrayal of the public trust," and said adoption of the plan would be "very close to a criminal act, and certainly an unethical act."
"The city should make a good faith effort to mitigate the residents' concerns," Steckler said.
Councilwoman Patty Comerford took offense.
"I never do this," Comerford said, then criticized Steckler for not doing his research into approved adjacent uses as a real estate agent, and for not knowing what he was selling to clients.
"The fact you are now finding it" on the agenda, "and didn't do the research prior, is irresponsible on your part," Comerford said. "For you to stand there and say we're criminal, and we're trying to pull one over on the public, is irresponsible on your part."
"I cannot be responsible for what builders lie to their clients," Steckler said.
Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler joined in.
"I take umbrage with the idea you think we shoved this into the consent agenda so no one could see it," Ziegler told Steckler. "It's been in the damned public domain since 2002. I feel terrible for people promised into perpetuity they would have a viewshed. There's no such thing."
Ziegler said Cottonwood Properties principal David Mehl would not allow something unattractive onto Dove Mountain.
"Do you believe David Mehl would let an apartment complex into that neighborhood that would be HUD properties?" Ziegler asked. "He would not sell to a company and let Legacy put in a shoddy apartment. I truly believe it's going to be an A1 job."
Cassidy pointed out the town would have a higher level of potential liability if it were to take an action that would "down zone" and decrease a property's value.
Clanagan mentioned the good work Cottonwood had done in developing Dove Mountain. He was concerned "this happened so rapidly," with most people learning the previous Friday night of the development plan's position on the agenda.
He asked Hallinan if he would consider postponing the request. "We certainly don't have the power to make you postpone this," Clanagan said.
"I'd really appreciate it if we'd move this forward tonight," Hallinan said. "This is not a sea change."
Throughout, Hallinan insisted, "we have tried really hard to provide disclosures." Multiple uses, to include apartment buildings, are "a component of the community we have out there. We're proud of what we're doing out there."
Afterward, Councilman Jon Post said "it bothers me people think we put things on the consent agenda so we don't have to deal with them."
And, as someone who grew up on a Marana farm and today sees thousands of houses out his window, Post urged residents to "be careful" about raising issues about views.
"In my opinion, you've ruined my view," Post said.