By Kevin Franklin
THE STRUGGLE TO shape the future of Tucson's northwest side rages on with a battle shaping up between a neighborhood association and a company that wants to locate a minor resort across from Sanctuary Cove, a privately owned preserve and non-denominational retreat.
The Pima Farms/Scenic Drive Neighborhood Association members have rallied around their president Robert Ferreira in opposing construction of what they feel will irreversibly devastate Sanctuary Cove and disrupt the neighborhood's character.
Debbie Ferns, who operates Bullseye Productions, the resort developer, says the neighbors' concerns are overstated.
According to plans submitted to the Pima County Development Services Department, Ferns hopes to create a sort of corporate retreat. The idea is to have guests who are staying in resorts or hotels in Tucson for conventions or company meetings bussed out to Ferns' property for a day of entertainment.
Ferns wants to erect a mock western town facade, picnic tables and several telephone pole-sized posts for use in corporate team-building "Olympic events."
Along with the poles and western town facade, a 10,000 square foot concrete slab has been poured on which a circus-like tent will be temporarily set up. Meals and some entertainment will be offered in the tent.
The biggest complaint Ferreira and the neighbors have is with the noise they suspect will come with this kind of activity.
Right now the 20-acre area is zoned SR, which means one house per 3.3 acres.
The six houses that could be built there would correlate better with the mission of Sanctuary Cove being a quiet place for the public to come meditate and pray, says Sanctuary Cove caretaker Anne Bunker.
"I've been out here for 12 years," Bunker says. "Of course I don't like to see anything change, but change is inevitable."
The 80-acre preserve, established 50 years ago, is probably the oldest non-government protected area in the Tucson basin, says Bunker.
"It's a jewel that Tucson has," Bunker says. "We don't allow weddings or picnics, nor do we have running water. We like to keep it very quiet.
"We don't allow anyone group to use the facility over an extended period of time (in order to maintain the sanctuary's primary mission as a place for individual prayer and thought), so having loud, obnoxious executive esteem building going on across the street is not in alignment with what we do here."
Neighborhood resident Anne Waisman agrees.
Last year Bullseye Productions staged 22 of these events in different areas around Tucson.
With the cash outlay the company made to buy the property, they're going to have to have more events than that to break even, Waisman predicts. That means almost once a week several diesel buses will be driving up and down dead-end, unpaved Scenic Drive, belching exhaust and loading and unloading hundreds of passengers, Waisman says.
"This is not a mini-resort," she adds. "It's an entertainment facility. It seems these parties would be more compatible with the big resorts."
Ferns says the impact will be much less than Bunker and Ferreira think.
"We're a mom-and-pop operation," Ferns says "not a major corporation. Everything we own--lock, stock and barrel--is tied up in that property."
Ferns refused to talk about the details of her plans, saying they were all on file at the Development Services Department and have been for months.
Ferns said the neighborhood association lied about her, and claims she's been maligned by the press.
"We've been so misrepresented," Ferns said, refusing to elaborate.
Ferreira says the misrepresentation emanates from Ferns. He says the initial understanding the neighborhood association had was that Bullseye Productions would be having a campfire and steak roast kind of thing for smaller groups.
In her letter requesting a conditional use permit, Ferns says a Studebaker junkyard is operated in the area and the existence of the Lazy K Bar guest ranch down the road sets precedent for an operation like hers.
Ferreira fires back that the so-called junkyard is a private collection, which is mostly contained in the property owners' garage and is not open to the public. He adds the maximum of 60 people at the Lazy K Bar are on a 160-acre ranch, on the other side of a mountain ridge from Sanctuary Cove, arguing that's a very different situation from several hundred people competing in events on 20 acres across the road from the area in question.
At a recent hearing, Linda Polito, development services hearing administrator, advised denial of a conditional use permit for Bullseye Productions.
Among the concerns she cited were the numbers of people who might be attending, the traffic involved and the neighborhood's strong opposition to the plan.
Polito's position is only advisory, however. The Pima County Board of Supervisors will make the final decision. They are scheduled to hear the controversy February 7.
Sometimes the Board of Supervisors follow the recommendation of the hearing administrator, sometimes not, says Supervisor Raul Grijalva, who says he'll probably vote against the permit. Grijalva adds he's waiting for more information, however.
Ferreira says the decision could still go either way.
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