In a community as large and economically diverse as Mesa, clashes between residents, developers and the city are an everyday occurrence.
The directional forces that push and pull neighboring property owners into a dispute can be as universal as the need to earn a living, or as personal as the desire to preserve a beautiful view.
Sometimes, consequent pressure or stress approaches the breaking point. That’s when Christine Zielonka goes to work.
“I typically get involved when there’s a problem,” said Zielonka, who has served as director of Mesa’s development services department for about a year.
Colleagues say she is a straight talker who knows how to set expectations and get parties to focus on creative compromise — even when one of the parties is her employer.
“She has solved a number of neighborhood disputes in my district,” Mesa City Councilman Rex Griswold said. “She has made my job a lot easier.”
In some cases Zielonka and her staff have convinced fellow Mesa officials to bend the rules of zoning and land use, particularly when they stood in the way of a practical solution.
Griswold said under city rules, one developer in his east Mesa district should have been required to spend thousands on improvements to a road that runs past his proposed business.
However, the road hit a dead end just up the street and wasn’t being used by anyone. Zielonka got Mesa to waive the requirement.
“Christine brought reasonability to the situation,” Griswold said.
In another case, the owner of a small print shop wanted to expand, which under city rules would have required him to build a block wall separating his property from an adjacent residence.
What the city rules didn’t address was the much more attractive and equally protective row of tall oleander bushes already standing between the two properties.
“City code would have required cutting them down and putting up a wall,” Zielonka said, “but that wouldn’t make sense.”
Needless to say, the oleander is still standing.
Some of the most difficult situations Zielonka handles are disputes between existing residents and developers of nearby vacant land.
She recently facilitated a neighborhood meeting involving residents of the Saguaro Mountain community, northwest of Brown and Crismon roads in east Mesa.
Some residents are upset that adjacent property owner V.I.P. Homes had its hillside property graded in such a manner that V.I.P.’s homes will significantly block their views.
The developer has noted that the area’s topography required grading the property in large steps, given the planned lot sizes.
Zielonka hadn’t expected the meeting to end with laugh ter and hugs, and it did not.
In such cases, the best thing a facilitator can do is keep the discussion moving and get participants to think realistically she said.
“That’s the personal face of sitting down with people and saying, ‘Here’s what we can and can’t do,’” she said. “It’s a matter of saying, ‘What can we live with here?’”
V.I.P. Homes did agree to make some additional con cessions such as enhanced landscaping between the two properties and optional view fencing so residents would not be looking up at a block wall.
Warren Petersen, vice pres ident of sales for V.I.P. Homes said Zielonka made the most out of a tense situation.
“She’s very dynamic, very people-oriented,” Petersen said. “I feel she’s a person of high integrity.”