A longtime Tucson developer is suing Pima County, arguing a proposed Board of Supervisors move to void his previously approved development plan would diminish an ongoing residential project.
Joseph Cesare, a partner in the company responsible for developing Star Valley, filed the suit on Aug. 8 in Pima County Superior Court. It asks a judge to block the Board of Supervisors from voting on a resolution until the lawsuit is decided. The board’s resolution could strip the undeveloped area of the southwest-side residential project at West Valencia Road and South Wade Road of its plat.
A plat refers to a survey of the area of planned development identifying property boundaries, easements, flood zones, roadways and rights-of-way.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Gus Aragon on Friday denied Cesare’s request to bar the Board of Supervisors from voting at its Monday meeting.
“You’re asking me to enjoin them from thinking a particular way,” Aragon said in his ruling. “I frankly don’t think I have any business doing that.”
If the county strips the area of its plat Cesare could be stuck with a vast expanse of unsubdivided land with diminished possibility for development, or require him to go through a lengthy and potentially costly replatting.
“Frankly, in the market today, if it’s not platted you may not be able to sell it,” Cesar’s attorney Evan L. Thompson said at the Friday hearing.
Cesare did not return phone calls requesting comment on the lawsuit.
The history of the Star Valley development goes back to 1987, when the supervisors approved a plan to develop more than 1,400 acres, including plans for as many as 7,000 houses. Over the years, the plan was amended at least twice and parcels were sold off. On one of those, a charter school has been built.
As part of getting the plans approved, the developers agreed to conditions designed to guarantee they make improvements to roadways and other infrastructure in the Star Valley area.
County officials say Cesare has not upheld his end of the bargain, allowing a four-year deadline on the improvements to lapse.
In particular, the county has taken issue with the noncompletion of an extension of Camino Verde, which would have created a second entry to the growing neighborhood.
As it now stands, residents have just one entry point from Valencia into the congested Star Valley area along Wade Road. The developer also was required to install traffic signals at Wade and Valencia roads.
“The developer has repeatedly rejected his obligation to complete these required improvements despite having agreed to the transportation improvement financing and implementation plan in 2002, and has resisted multiple County requests to facilitate a resolution for construction of the improvements,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote in a July memo.
Huckelberry declined to comment further on the issue because of the pending litigation.
Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who represents the area, said Star Valley has presented numerous issues for the county over the years.
Bronson said the 1987 plan as written allowed the developer to add infrastructure in a piecemeal fashion instead of completing all the work before beginning construction on residences.
“We would never allow such a thing to happen today,” Bronson said.
She said the county has considered using impact fee funds to complete the Camino Verde extension, which would alleviate the congestion along Wade Road.
County memos suggest doing the same; however, it’s uncertain how or if the county would recoup the expenses if the option were taken.
In a June memo, Huckelberry does suggest the county plans to block the developer from constructing more homes in Star Valley by not agreeing to release the lots for sale until Cesare makes the improvements.
In the lawsuit, Cesare disputes the county’s claim the development has fallen into default on its obligations to complete the infrastructure improvements.
The lawsuit sites a 2002 agreement signed with the county that reads, in part: “…Star Valley does not waive any constitutional or statutory grounds it may have to challenge the requirement of off-site improvements as a condition of plat approval, or its ability to seek the inclusion of the off-site improvements as projects to be funded by future development fees adopted by Pima County.”
The complaint also notes the county has collected more than $5 million in impact fees from the sale of lots in development. In addition, it claims the developers have invested more than $8 million in roadway improvements already and risk considerable losses if the supervisors vote to have the area replatted on Monday.
If county action does result in a loss of market value, Aragon said at the Friday hearing that Cesare could pursue a separate legal remedy for damages against the county.