A view north from Cloud Road just east of Sabino Canyon Rd.looking towards the Catalina Mountains on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 in Tucson, AZ. This is part of a parcel of land dissected by Sabino Canyon with a northern border on River Road and a Southern border on Cloud Rd. Developer wants to build 259 rental units, townhouses and apartments, at Cloud and Sabino Canyon roads. Some neighbors are not enthusiastic and are mounting a campaign to prevent said project. Photo by Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star.

Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star

A development group's plan to turn untouched natural desert along Sabino Canyon Road between East River and Cloud roads into rental homes is drawing flak from nearby residents concerned about property values and increased traffic.

Aerie Development will ask the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission this morning to recommend rezoning the southwest corner of East River and North Sabino Canyon roads to build 53 one-story rental units they are calling "luxury casitas" on the 5.91 acres. The property is now 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 same group met with county officials earlier this year to discuss building as many as 200 similar units on a 15.14-acre site across the street, just south of River Road, on the northeast corner of Sabino Canyon and Cloud.

The developer has not submitted formal plans for the second site, said Bob Gugino, an attorney and partner in the development.

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

Gugino said no decision about the density or the underlying use for the site has been made.

A final decision on both rezonings would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors before the projects can move forward, county officials said.

Nearby homeowners said they are concerned about what more than 250 rental units would do to traffic along both River and Sabino Canyon roads, as well as how property values might be affected by a sudden influx of rental units.

Residents have posted signs along busy streets urging them to show up at the rezoning hearings, starting with today's public hearing before the commission.

Dean Stith sits on the board of the Sabino Vista Homeowners Association and lives less than a mile from the proposed development.

He concedes it is unrealistic to hope the site will never be developed, but Stith said he's concerned about the density of the proposal and traffic congestion caused by construction of hundreds of new homes.

"Traffic is a big concern," he said, noting two other unrelated developments are planned for the area, adding to the concerns.

For the moment, the homeowners association is neutral on proposed development and has not taken a formal vote on rezoning of the 15.14-acre parcel.

But Don Cotton, who also sits on the board of the homeowners association, predicts that will change over the coming months.

"The board will take a position," Cotton said on Tuesday.

Cotton is opposed to the proposed development, saying the rental properties will drive down home values.

Gugino said he feels it is premature to discuss the second larger parcel, which the commission will not take any action on today.

He said a similar plan for one-story rentals makes sense in the current economy, but no decision has been made.

Gugino noted that if the site was sold to a school or church, state law would allow for taller buildings that could generate much more traffic.

If you go

• What: Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission

• Where: Basement of the Public Works Building, 201 N. Stone Ave.

• When: Today, 9 a.m.

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