It was the end of the public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments to the 6,300-acre Canoa Ranch property southwest of town owned by the Fairfield Company. A column of speakers had all spoken in favor of Option 4, which would have reduced the county's Comprehensive Plan for the area to essentially match the existing zoning and allowed only 1,400 homes on large lots. The developer, Fairfield Homes, hadn't even bothered to speak on the issue. It looked like a done deal...but appearances can be deceiving.
Option 4 doesn't change the existing zoning. But changing the Comprehensive Plan means that Fairfield or any other developer would have multiple hoops to jump through to again ask for a rezoning. The developer's request for about 9,000 homes, two golf courses and a major commercial area was turned down in 1998.
Supervisor Raul Grijalva had moved to accept Option 4 with Carroll as a second when his colleague Dan Eckstrom made an eloquent plea to finally "resolve" the whole Canoa question by condemning the property. Eckstrom did so by substituting a condemnation motion for the motion adopting Option 4. Supervisor Boyd seconded it. Carroll cast the third vote and then almost immediately realized that he'd screwed up.
Supervisor Chair Sharon Bronson, who had joined Grijalva in voting no, informed Carroll when he tried to remedy the situation by returning to the original motion that he would have to move to reconsider, a motion that must come from someone who voted with the prevailing side. Carroll so moved and Grijalva seconded, but it wasn't quite that simple. They first needed to suspend the Board's rule against reconsidering a zoning matter, and this appeared to be close enough. Bronson began to take a vote when Eckstrom interjected that he thought the vote was out of order and he appealed the decision of the chair.
Bronson did not take a vote on the appeal, but reversed her ruling. She explained that her vote wouldn't count on the appeal of her decision, per Robert's Rules of Order, causing it to fail 2-2. And it's a little strange to announce rulings on appeals from the chair based on suppositions about how many votes they might get.
Bronson went ahead to announce, over Carroll's objections, that he could reconsider the vote on condemnation at the next regular meeting scheduled for December 7. Eckstrom and Carroll had a brief discussion, in which Carroll clearly admitted to his "buyer's remorse" on condemnation with his comment, "It sounded real good for about 30 seconds, Mr. Eckstrom." Then the supes took a 15- minute break.
Upon reconvening, Carroll raised the point that while they had decided to pursue condemnation they had still ignored the item before them, which was the amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. The Board's attorney Pete Pearman agreed, but Bronson shut both he and Carroll down and basically told everybody to come back in three weeks.
UNDERSTANDING THE whole mess requires you to understand the relationships of the players. It's no secret that Bronson has been feuding with Carroll at least as far back as his failure to provide the fifth vote needed to impose a half-cent sales tax. Grijalva and Boyd, the two supervisors who got Carroll his initial appointment to the Board, also have strained relationships with Carroll. Further, while disagreeing on some issues, Bronson has grown reasonably close to Eckstrom and is certainly impressed by his deep knowledge of rules and procedures, something his three other colleagues almost totally lack. Things are further complicated by a lack of confidence in Pearman by both Bronson and Eckstrom. So we shouldn't be surprised that Bronson sided with Eckstrom on a procedural matter over an error made by a colleague she dislikes.
And there is also the ultimate irony -- and "gotcha" -- by Eckstrom on Grijalva, who moved to condemn Canoa two years ago and couldn't get a second.
Where does that leave 6,300 acres? Somewhat in limbo. Carroll and Grijalva believe the Board needs to revisit the issue, pass Option 4, and then attach the condemnation portion. Bronson, who said in the hearing that she wanted to make the motion to attach condemnation to Option 4 herself, now finds that all but impossible to do, even though Pearman has issued an eight-page opinion answering a number of points raised by Carroll.
Pearman maintains the question of amending the Comprehensive Plan is still on the table for the next meeting; on the condemnation issues, he simply points out that all the board really did was instruct staff to begin the process, as formal condemnation requires more than a quicky motion. Pearman also disagreed with Bronson and Eckstrom on the issue of allowing a reconsideration vote at the same meeting the original vote was taken, but that point is moot on this issue, unless Carroll and Grijalva can corral a third vote for it or the implementation of Option 4.
On Thursday, November 18, Fairfield filed a suit against the county claiming inverse condemnation, alleging actions taken by Pima County deny them due process and property rights. Part of their suit is the usual pie in the sky stuff, alleging that Pima County really has no right to deny them a rezoning! Lawyers -- even good ones like Fairfield's Dennis Rosen -- put crap like that in figuring they might score with a really stupid or craven judge, which we have all seen happen. But the real nut of their suit probably has some merit.
Fairfield claims Pima County has jacked them around; the final example is the current situation over the plan amendment and the beginning of the condemnation process. Starting that process obviously casts a shadow over land they own and may wish to sell, and changing a land-use plan to make it harder to use that land after a condemnation action has been called for probably strengthens their case.
That's how Bronson sees it; even thought she'd like to change the decision Carroll's third vote made, she doesn't -- for now -- see any way to do it that won't ultimately cost the county in court.
Which is the real problem with the whole condemnation argument. How much are the taxpayers willing to fork over to Fairfield to keep the old ranch reasonably pristine? While we'd all probably like a 6,300-acre park, there is only $3.5 million in the open-space bond money for Canoa. While some other bucks could be squeezed from Flood Control funds, Pima County would have a tough time scraping together the $11 million the county's appraisers claim the whole 6,300-acre parcel is worth. Fairfield claims it's worth $36 million, which is a bit ridiculous considering they bought it six years ago for $6.5 mil. But at some point, with both sides now wanting a court-ordered price, Pima County taxpayers will need to come up with a rather hefty piece of cash.
Some in the preservation community, including Bronson, are concerned that what may happen is that the balance of the open-space bond dollars, voted for other areas around Pima County, will be raided to cover Canoa. That would give the county one big piece of open space in one place and wipe out plans for more parks elsewhere.
The whole process spotlights two problems much bigger than Carroll's mistake on a motion. It shows us just how rancid and insane the whole damn "comprehensive" planning process has been from the beginning. Every square mile of Eastern Pima County has some hokey designation on it that either means "build lots of houses now" or "build lots of houses later on."
Developers and land speculators consider the slightest hint as a mandate to clearcut. If this "plan" is ever implemented, we'll hit the population level of Mexico City.
The other problem is a notion that any ranch on which the owner might want to place high-density development has to be purchased by the taxpayer as the only way to preserve it. Why? Why can't the Board of Supes -- or other governments -- just say "no" to a rezoning and leave it at that? We clearly can't afford to preserve the whole damn county by buying it up.
This one is far from over. And in the end, you'll likely be paying the bill.