A roomful of angry homeowners helped persuade a majority of Pima County's Planning and Zoning Commission to oppose the rezoning of 5.9 acres on Tucson's northeast side.

More than 40 residents living near Aerie Development's proposed 53 rental-home project along Sabino Canyon Road between East River and Cloud roads clapped, cheered and at times tried to shout down speakers during a 2 1/2-hour public hearing Wednesday.

By the end of the meeting, residents, upset after being chided for their behavior, began shouting at the commissioners .

Commissioner Randall Holdridge said residents have had blinders on, refusing to look at the history of other nearby projects.

"I think they are living in a fantasy land," Holdridge said, noting most of the adjacent neighborhoods had a similar, dense zoning to what the applicant was seeking.

Holdridge wound up on the losing side of the 5-3 vote, with a majority of commissioners saying they had serious concerns about the impacts the proposed development would have on traffic along Sabino Canyon and River roads, as well as the local water supply.

The county staff told the eight commissioners that traffic in the area already exceeds maximum capacity on some portions of the three roads and there is no immediate plan to widen Sabino Canyon, River or Cloud roads. Staff members said they believe the water table would begin to recover, given the decision by Tucson Water to rely on wells in other areas of town.

Commissioner Bonnie Poulos remained unconvinced.

"I honestly don't believe the water report. I don't have any reason to believe it because (historical) data shows it is diminishing in that area," Poulos said. "I am very, very, very concerned about draining the water supply to an area as unique as Sabino Canyon."

The recommendation, which goes to the Pima County Board of Supervisors for a final decision, was not a knockout blow to Aerie Development.

Bob Gugino, an attorney and partner in the Aerie Development project, said he will ask the board to approve construction of the 53 one-story rental units he is calling "luxury casitas" on the 5.9-acre site.

The property is zoned for low-density "suburban ranch" development, but the county land use plan for the area allows it to be rezoned for up to 10 units per acre.

The real issue might not be the 5.9-acre site, but a 15.14-acre site on the other side of Sabino Canyon Road.

Aerie Development met with county officials earlier this year to discuss building as many as 200 similar units but has not submitted formal plans for the second site, said Gugino.

The larger parcel also is currently zoned for low-density suburban ranch development. The county's current land-use plan would allow rezoning for low-intensity urban uses, but the developers are seeking to amend the plan to allow rezonings for medium-high-intensity urban uses.

Gugino said he thinks the zoning issue will go to the supervisors sometime in July.

"I think they are living in a fantasy land."

Randall Holdridge zoning commissioner, speaking of development's opponents

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@azstarnet.com or 573-4346.