It's all or nothing for developers
Developers say city unfair in its procedure
Developers of a newly proposed subdivision which has been raising some controversy in town are saying full steam ahead with their project instead of going back to the drawing board.
Forest Canyon Estates is a 60-acre, project with about 120 lots set to be located behind the South Tenth Street and Park Way intersection. Since first appearing at an October Williams Planning and Zoning Commission (PZ) meeting, the development has brought forth various concerns from would-be neighbors, such as drainage, aesthetics, water storage and usage, and has even prompted a letter of concern about traffic safety from the Williams Unified School District's governing board because of the project's proximity to the Williams High School.
Forest Canyon Estate's developers, the TMD Group, held an informal public meeting with nearby homeowners on Nov. 15 in which the developers tried to answer questions and address the concerns of the residents. At least one issue ‹ that of a property line dispute ‹ was put to rest when TMD announced it was conceding to the claims of current residents and resetting its property lines.
Not too long after and due to the number of issues still waiting to be addressed, city staff members asked in a letter that TMD go back to the drawing board and address those items of concern at the beginning level, the city's design review team (DRT).
TMD made a short presentation during the open public participation portion of the Dec. 14 Williams City Council meeting to voice their desire to proceed anyway.
"We responded in a letter that we do not feel we should go back to DRT since we've been to DRT twice and staff has already approved us in DRT and that we should go back to planning and zoning since its an open item and that's a parliamentary process that's not being followed here," said Dan Rhea, one of TMD's owners.
Because of the heated debates and the unresolved property lines dispute at the initial PZ meeting, commissioners decided to table the item of granting TMD a rezoning for their development until the boundary lines could be properly investigated.
The developers are now butting heads with city staff, claiming they are being held up unfairly and that since the item was tabled at PZ, it should be automatically re-appearing at the next scheduled PZ meeting, according to Robert's Rules ‹ a set of guidelines used to govern open meeting processes.
"It's basically the Robert's Rules that when you vote to table an item, you have to vote it off as an item or open it up for discussion. It can't be tabled indefinitely," Rhea said.
That, however, is not necessarily the case according to the city, its attorney Lat Celmins, and Tom Belshe, Deputy Director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
The LACT is a non-profit organization that provides municipalities with resources such as training council members and other elected officials on open meeting procedure.
"Robert's Rules have nothing to do with the procedures for planning and zoning at all," Belshe explained. "Robert's Rules of Order have only to do with how meetings are conducted. Just because something's put on an agenda, doesn't mean it has to be voted up or down. They (city) can take several types of actions. The fact that they sent them (TMD) back to the beginning to begin again because of concerns brought up by homeowners is something that's clearly within their rights."
TMD argues that point and at the brief Dec. 14 presentation, the group was asked by Williams City Councilman Don Dent if they were prepared to go all the way through the regular PZ and council process and then be turned down at the end because of the issues at hand.
Rhea said yes because the group feels confident that once council members and PZ commissioners hear them out fully, the group will be able to sell city staff and council on the project.
"I think their take on it is that once they lay it out, they think that they can convince everybody that this is great," Dent said, bringing up one of the main issues of traffic impact and safety to the area.
Dent said that the current traffic design, which proposes to have an ingress/egress from Forest Canyon Estates through some city property that dumps out on or near South Sixth Street, is unacceptable. The developers feel that opening a road through that city property would be a benefit since it would open that area to development.
"It might open up some lots that the city could sell, but we're not in the land development business and we only own so much open space that we can preserve," Dent said. "I don't think they understand that."
At the Dec. 14 presentation, Dent said if the developers want to risk it all, the city should go ahead and let them.
"My feeling is, for the benefit of the staff ‹ rather than them attacking the staff and saying, 'You guys are the ones holding us up, we want a hearing, we want a process,' rather than throwing that back on the staff, it's my idea to bring them on."
One of the reasons TMD feels so confident that it can sell the city on its development despite the numerous concerns still lingering, is that TMD contends that there will be many benefits for the city, such as immediate impact fee revenue and area-wide drainage/water storage benefits and that those benefits outweigh many of the concerns.
Williams City Manager Dennis Wells, however, said that while conditions may have been different in the past, the city doesn't need the benefits as much as TMD might think.
"The city is far more concerned about the issues than with the benefits," Wells said, adding that the city is in a much better position than it used to be, which allows Williams the luxury of being able to more carefully choose its development approvals.
To TMD's credit, Rhea said that when issues of concern are brought up during either PZ or in council ‹ if the developers are allowed to go back to PZ instead of DRT ‹ that the group will be more than willing to address and correct any issues at that time.
Though TMD's owners have had experience with other large developers, such as Del Webb, TMD itself is a brand new company. Rhea also said that a timeline does exist and that TMD is interested in continuing the regular process because the more time that goes by, the more money TMD has to spend.
Right now, the city has offered TMD either a Feb. 8 DRT meeting followed by a later February PZ meeting, or an early March DRT meeting followed by a later March PZ meeting.
No formal decision from the city on TMD's contention with going back to DRT ‹ if one is even forthcoming ‹ has been made as of yet.