Under mounting pressure from environmental groups, American Indian leaders, the U.S. military and Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission voted against Scottsdale developer George Johnson’s plan for a massive residential development in southern Arizona.
The commission voted 5-2 with two commissioners absent Thursday to recommend denial of rezoning for La Osa Ranch, a proposed community of more than 30,000 homes that would sit atop a flood plain and directly under key military flight training routes. The area, north of Tucson, also contains many sacred historical sites, according to neighboring tribes.
The Pinal County Board of Supervisors still has final say on the rezoning and will take it up at a future meeting.
In all, more than 20 different groups protested the creation of La Osa Ranch, the commissioners said, including the Army National Guard, the Air Force and Napolitano’s office.
"There’s just been too many things that have politicized this thing," Commissioner Ray Harlan said. "There are people whose careers and whose lives are on the line."
The commission heard arguments for and against La Osa Ranch on Jan. 29 and approved a 45-day continuance for representatives from Johnson’s company, Johnson International Inc., to reach agreements with military leaders and other groups objecting to the project.
Many opposition leaders had written letters to the commission, calling La Osa Ranch everything from a criminal attack on the environment to a potential threat to military victory in Iraq.
Still, Johnson and a team of consultants denied accusations of illegal bulldozing activity — the subject of two Arizona Department of Environmental Quality violation notices — and promised to work with La Osa’s critics to reach a compromise.
As a result of discussions with military leaders, Johnson planning consultant Charles Hulsey said the project would be reduced in size from its original 45,000 homes to accommodate Air Force flight training paths.
But Army National Guard leaders said the proposed reduction in size would not eliminate the negative impact on Apache Longbow helicopter training, crucial to the military effort in Iraq.
Harlan, who was a strong supporter of La Osa Ranch at the January meeting, was critical Thursday and initiated the motion for denial.