By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
The sniping between a political action committee calling itself Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers and Maricopa city officials over plans to build the APEX Motor Club turned into a full-on legal war over the past two weeks.
After city officials declined to forward a ballot proposition by the group to the Pinal County Recorder’s Office for review, the PAC filed a lawsuit in Pinal County Superior Court on Monday.
APEX owner Private Motorsports Group plans to build an “automotive country club” for motorsports enthusiasts on 280 acres in Maricopa. When finished, the motor club will feature a four-mile, multi-configuration asphalt road course, a 12KSF clubhouse, 12KSF multi-purpose building, kart facility and track, tuning shop, fuel and concierge service, and 200 auto storage spaces or “car condos” ranging from 600-to-1,800SF.
Maricopa Planning and Zoning approved a conditional use permit for the development in April. Prior to granting the CUP, however, the commission received a letter of opposition from some residents and heard an argument by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. Opposition was primarily centered around a noise report submitted as part of the consideration, which Woods stated was insufficient. Commissioners disagreed and approved the measure unanimously.
Earlier this month, Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers submitted more than 1,100 signatures calling for a voter referendum on the proposal. When the group initially applied for the petition it called for 491 signatures to require a referendum.
On June 20, City Clerk Vanessa Bueras sent a letter to MCPT Chair Robert Rebich informing the group Maricopa would not forward the application and petition sheets to the county recorder’s office for verification. The letter stated that under the Arizona Constitution, the power of referendum applies only to legislative acts, and the City had determined its granting of the CUP was administrative, not legislative. Bueras also said she found deficiencies in a sampling of the signatures she reviewed and that the margins on the petitions did not meet the legally-required formatting requirements.
MCPT had until Tuesday, June 27 to file a challenge in Superior Court.
MCPT President Rebich and Treasurer David Prom, both as individuals and in their roles as officers of the organization, filed the complaint against Maricopa Mayor Christian Brown, the six city council members, Bueras and Private Motorsports Group.
MCPT asks the court to order the City to submit the legally-required sample of 5 percent of the submitted signatures to the county recorder for review and verification, to restore signatures Bueras disqualified and to pay for attorney’s fees and court costs.
The group argues that due to differences between the City’s current zoning ordinance and the Pinal County ordinance under which the APEX site was originally zoned CI-2-Industrial before Maricopa’s incorporation, the property must be rezoned in order for a CUP to be granted. MCPT states rezoning is a legislative, rather than administrative action. Under that circumstance, MCPT alleges, its petition is valid and must be considered.
The group also alleges it is not the role of the clerk’s office to check the validity of submitted signatures, a duty and power it states is reserved for the county recorder.
An article published on the Maricopa Monitor website gave a response from Mayor Price about the City’s position on the zoning claim.
It says, “…the city is still in a transition stage in its zoning code, between the code it inherited from the county when Maricopa incorporated and the new code passed by the council. When there is a big project like APEX, Price said the applicant gets to choose during the transition period which code it wants to follow.
“APEX chose to follow the old code, which meant coming before the Planning and Zoning Commission and then the City Council to gain approval for the project. The new code, Price said, would have allowed the applicants to work with staff and stay out of the public scrutiny that comes with going before commissions. However, that course would have likely forced a rezoning, which would have then subjected the matter to a referendum.”
Allegations and Suspicions
Ever since MCPT first arrived on scene, there has been vocal speculation and allegations about its motivations, particularly since its officers reside in Phoenix.
Private Motorsports President Jason Plotke has spoken out loudly and repeatedly regarding the group, which he suspects is a front for officials and supporters of the proposed Attesa Motorsports Center and Mixed-Use project in Pinal County.
Attesa’s proposed facility is much larger and more multi-faceted than APEX’s. The 2,510-acre plan calls for two separate road courses, a karting track, a driver experience center and a multi-surface racing and event area, along with a private airport with a 6,000-foot-long runway to enable patrons to fly in and out. Attesa also will include residential, hospitality and commercial uses.
Earlier this month, Plotke was quoted as saying he believed Rebich is acting as a “henchman” for the Attesa attorneys Snell & Wilmer, lobbyist Joe Villasenor and Attesa officials. He alleged he had heard from people familiar with both projects Attesa is focused on stopping the APEX development.
Plotke also cast doubt on the validity of the signature drive, telling Pinal Central, “We heard from multiple citizens that people circulating the petition were telling them, ‘If you support the motor club, please sign.’”
Plotke told inMaricopa he does not see APEX as a competitive threat to Attesa. “We’re just one small component of what they’re attempting to do,” he said. “And they need to look after their own project. They don’t have zoning yet.”
The City has not yet filed a response to MCPT’s complaint. In the June 28 Maricopa Monitor article, Mayor Price expressed frustration at the litigation, which he said he suspects is an attempt to drive up costs for APEX’s developers. Given that costs will now also increase for the city, he told the paper he finds the “Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers” name paradoxical.
“That’s an ironic name, that they’re going to make taxpayers pay for costs in court when that’s why you have an elected group of representatives,” Price was quoted as saying. “That money could go to police or fire or any other service. But instead, it’s going to go to attorneys.”