Action taken on wedding venue zoning, Housing Authority training, JP courts
By Dana Trumbull
Tax Injunction Denied
On March 28, County Manager Greg Stanley reported to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors (BOS) the ruling of the court denying the Goldwater Institute’s request for a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the collection of the half-cent transportation excise tax (Proposition 417).
Judge Christopher T. Whitten of Maricopa County Superior Court ruled against the injunction request on March 23. The legality of the variable tax rate, however, is yet to be determined.
The new tax tables, went into effect April 1. The county will deposit the funds in an escrow account until litigation is settled.
Joslyn Crown Zoning Change Approved
On March 28, with a 4-1 vote, the BOS approved a zone change with 31 stipulations for the proposed Joslyn Crown wedding and event center, from CR-1 (very low density residential) to C-3 (general commercial). The approval clears the way for John and Christina Ramer, owners of the property, to proceed with the Pinal County site plan review and permitting process.
The proposed site plans include a 14,084 square foot building that is 25’ high, supporting both indoor and outdoor ceremonies, although amplified music would be restricted to indoor only. The property is located at Hwy 88 and Mountain View Road.
The Ramers anticipate hosting approximately three events per week with a maximum of 300 people each. The plans include 93 parking spaces onsite, with shuttle and/or professional valet service provided for off-site parking if needed.
The supervisors’ vote was preceded by a public hearing that lasted more than 93 minutes, as neighbors, local business owners and investors spoke about the potential benefits and problems associated with the proposed zoning change and the planned venue.
Attorney Thomas Galvin, Rose Law Group, spoke on behalf of the Ramers, describing the plans for Joslyn Crown as a “unique, distinct indoor venue. Any events that are held outdoors will be purely ceremonial.”
He added that, “There is already a significant amount of activity for retail, restaurants, commercial event venues and a state park nearby… It is my understanding that the residential properties immediately surrounding the proposed site were purchased after this application was first made with the county.”
Local residents, already fed up with noise and traffic created during events at the Paseo wedding and event center, Filly’s Roadhouse, Superstition Mountain Museum, Elks Lodge and other neighboring venues, spoke out against the zoning change.
Resident Jerry Clausen explained, “What I’m interested in is the lifestyle that my wife and I and our neighbors have deliberately chosen – chosen years ago – and now we feel it is in jeopardy.” Other speakers cited potential safety hazards created when heavy traffic and overflow parking blocks emergency vehicles.
Resident Karen Fisher-Smith, however, feels that Joslyn Crown will help promote a positive image for the community, “This will be an indoor venue, unlike the other businesses in the area… We all knew about that [existing commercial and event traffic and noise] when we bought our property. I think this is a positive thing for our community; it’s going to bring a lot of positive light and a lot of potential homebuyers when they discover the Apache Junction area by coming to places like the proposed business.”
Marni Leyva, owner of Apache Junction Flowers and Wild Iris Weddings is also in favor of the wedding venue. “The Ramers have demonstrated an earnest desire to partner with local Apache Junction and Pinal County wedding vendors and businesses… Furthermore, because Joslyn Crown is an indoor event venue, it will provide year-round business, thus benefiting hotels, gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and our local tourist attractions.
“The wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Current venues in our area are booked years in advance, proving that the demand for another event venue not only exists, but it is way past due.”
After a brief executive session, a few of the supervisors commented. “It’s my backyard,” stated House. “I am pro-growth, I am pro-development, but when there’s a group of people who come together to say ‘I don’t want this in my neighborhood,’ I’m the only one that can represent them.”
District 4 Supervisor Anthony Smith, however, summarized, “Quite frankly, I’m not buying the argument that this is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, because there is so much commercial development along highway 88. If this [code change] is successful, it [Joslyn Crown building plans] will go through a site plan review, and there will be a traffic impact analysis and other studies.”
Pinal County staff received 28 letters and 133 signatures in opposition of the zoning change and 15 letters and 147 signatures in support of the zoning change. Some of the letter writers, both pro and con, wrote multiple times.
Because of the number and proximity of residents opposing the zoning change, the motion required approval by four of the five supervisors. Supervisors John Goodman, Steve Miller, Pete Rios and Anthony Smith approved. District 5 Supervisor Todd House opposed.
JP Redistricting Update
The Board of Supervisors decided in July, 2017, to reduce the number of Justice of the Peace (JP) districts from eight to six, redrawing the boundaries to redistribute the workload, easing the pressure on the Apache Junction court. The redistricting plan is currently underway.
District 1 Supervisor Pete Rios explained, “AJ was abutting up against 1,200 productivity points, which, by state law, requires the county to create a new JP precinct, and we didn’t want to do that. So we went to the consolidation.
“While some courts in the eastern portion of the county will lose JP courts, there will also be satellite facilities set up with a JP who will be traveling between the facilities and taking advantage of technology to handle some cases via videoconferencing. San Tan Valley will have a new JP court built to handle the population growth.
“While reducing the number of districts overall, the redistribution will help to spread the workload around to take the pressure off of the AJ court.”
Supervisor House also noted, “I know that we had to restructure the JP. One of the nice things was that we are going to save some money in the process – not a lot, but some.”
Last year, Apache Junction had 19,500 case filings in the justice court.
Housing and Development Training
The fiscal year assessment of the Pinal County Housing Department, conducted December, 2017, resulted in a management designation of “Substandard.” Although this was an improvement from the previous year’s designation of “Troubled,” the county is still underperforming.
The Pinal County Board of Supervisors, who holds responsibility as the Housing Authority for Pinal County, will be required to participate in a six hour course as a part of an improvement plan. The training will be presented by a 3rd party vendor, hired by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The training comes with appropriate timing, as the BOS has declared April to be Fair Housing Month.
Photo above: Joslyn Crown venue rendering