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City Oleander Ordinance Nixed

City Council also presents proclamations and discusses business tax updates

The Apache Junction City Council voted to deny consideration of an ordinance that would seek to control the growing, size and maintenance of oleanders, “accessible to horses on adjoining properties or in such a manner in which the leaves are (not) contained on the property from which the plant is maintained…”

The motion failed to pass by a vote of 5-2, with Mayor Jeff Serdy and Vice Mayor Chip Wilson voting in favor of the proposed ordinance.

Voting against the motion were Councilmembers Robin Barker, Gail Evans, Christa Rizzi, Jeff Struble and Dave Waldron. A second motion was made to take no further action on the amendment, which passed by the same count, with Mayor Serdy and Vice Mayor Wilson opposing it.

Preceding the votes was a public hearing and a discussion on the merits of restricting the planting of oleanders near where horses are kept in the city.

The plant species is known to be poisonous in small amounts to horses as well as humans and other animals. If leaves find their way into feed or hay and are ingested, the resulting sickness can be fatal.

“Apache Junction is known throughout the country as being a horse friendly community. Winter visitors come from all over the country… and Canada,” said Darryl Cross at the public hearing on the matter. “They bring all sorts of revenue, they purchase property and horse-related items… they love to eat at our restaurants and spend their money here in Apache Junction,” he continued. “Contrast that with what benefit oleanders bring to the city: very little, except taxes when the plant was bought. We need some help; we don’t want our horses to die from this plant.”

Mr. Cross is a member of the Oleander Work Group (OWG) that was formed last February to research and propose an ordinance banning oleanders in the city. City Attorney Joel Stern, who has been facilitating the OWG, researched other cities that have oleander restrictions. Norco, a horse-friendly community in California has oleanders banned by ordinance. In Arizona, Cave Creek and Cottonwood prohibit the plant in their zoning/landscape design guidelines and restrictions within subdivisions/zones are found in Mesa and Phoenix. Show Low requires city approval before planting and Marana mentions oleander as toxic but not restricted. There are no regulations in Buckeye, Chino Valley, Flagstaff, Maricopa Co., Pima Co., Pinal Co., Prescott, Prescott Valley, Queen Creek and Tucson.

“My husband and I own a couple burros … there is a part of our fence that is oleanders,” said Councilwoman Rizzi. “My animals have never been sick.”

The push to restrict the plant in Apache Junction grew out of a dispute between neighbors in 2016 concerning one property owner’s oleanders growing over the wall of the adjacent property where horses are kept. The matter was resolved by trimming the plant back but other horse owners became concerned that the problem would return. One of the horse owners spoke to the council about the danger at a call to the public, which prompted Vice Mayor Wilson to get the issue on a Council agenda late last year.

“A comment I got [from a posting on a website] was from a lady and her husband who have dogs, kids … her neighbor planted oleanders on the fence between them,” said Councilman Waldron. “She was concerned about the toxicity of them … she went over and talked to that neighbor, and the neighbor pulled them up, took them back to the store and got something else. It was a neighborhood dispute resolved between neighbors.”

“I don’t think there is anyone here that doesn’t understand the importance of horses to our community… I was a past horse owner,” said Councilwoman Evans. “Poisonous is poisonous, and for us to limit poisonous plants in one particular area or one particular animal is not what we’re here for, we’re here for the entire community. Not for just one segment that gets to come before us… we have to be here for everybody. To have this limited to horses only, it’s inadequate. I don’t ever want to put city staff in the middle of a dispute, which is what brought us here to begin with—a neighbor dispute. There’s other avenues to settle that, and it has to be neighbor to neighbor.”

Also at the Tuesday meeting, Mayor Serdy read a proclamation declaring August 7, 2017 as National Purple Heart Day and encouraged residents to attend an evening ceremony under the armed services flags that face the focal point on North Apache Trail. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. on August 7. Accepting the proclamation at the meeting were Mike Ferguson of the Apache Junction Community Veterans Center and Craig Lee of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 2560.

The mayor also read a proclamation designating August as Child Support Awareness Month. The proclamation stresses the importance of supporting children in the community through responsible financial support from parents and recognizes the agencies and organizations that contribute to the success of a child’s security. Accepting the proclamation was Daren Sweet from the Division of Child Support Services at DES.

City Manager Bryant Powell introduced a presentation on the Apache Junction Landfill by General Manager Chris Coyle. He said the next “free dump week” was scheduled for August 7-12 and reported that the landfill had taken in 2,500 tons of city waste at the last dump week. Mr. Coyle also presented his research into establishing a local composting service. Challenges seemed to outweigh the benefits according to Coyle. The landfill would need to separate organic waste from other waste and mix it in specific proportions to achieve the desired results. He said composting needs to be done in a manufacturing facility that can cost anywhere from $500,000 up and that air quality would need to be continually monitored through ADEQ, since the smell of the operation would be intense. Heat generated by the biological process can cause spontaneous combustion. Mr. Coyle said that the city of Tempe has a composting operation that is successful, but that the city has trouble giving the compost away.

Larry Johnson, President/CEO of the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center made a presentation on the performance of the Center in the past fiscal year. He said that the chamber counted 35,341 “door swings” between July of 2016 and June of 2017. Mr. Johnson highlighted improvements to the Visitors Center including ADA (American Disabilities Act) updates made to the facility restrooms, a hitching post, water trough and bike rack. Windows at the center were decorated with scenic photos, taken by local photographers and enlarged by a local printer.

The Council approved 7-0 an application for an interim permit, new license, limited liability company, series 10 liquor license for Shell 1621, located at 1571 W. Apache Trail. The Council will make a recommendation for approval to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.

The Council also voted 7-0 to approve direction to staff to change the TPT license fee from $50 to $2 and added a $50 business license fee for city businesses. The direction included the suggested changes made to Chapter 8 by City Clerk Kathy Connelly at the July 17, 2017 work session.

The council will meet next in executive session at 6:00 p.m. and in a work session at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, July 31, 2017. There will also be an executive session at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 1, 2017.

City Council meetings are open to the public and held in chambers at 300 E. Superstition Blvd. in Apache Junction. The meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. Complete agendas and supporting materials are available here.

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