Stanton: Trouble in Tanque Verdeby Billie Stanton on Dec. 10, 2008, under Edge, Opinion
Wedding business-to-be draws a cold reception from blissful community
The last best place in the Tanque Verde Valley, a secluded glen of quiet families, now is ready for war.
Forget Forty Niner Country Club, Mariposa Resort and the gated communities and swimming pools that have come to characterize this valley.
The mile of Tanque Verde Loop Road north of Speedway – “the Loop” – is a relic of mostly old, unpretentious properties.
But in the country kitchens behind the funky goat yards and horse barns, sophisticated computer investigations are producing pounds of corporate and court documents.
The findings are painstakingly plotted on a color-coded chart revealing a Byzantine web of corporate intrigue.
If slick real estate mogul John Fazio thinks he’s dealing with country bumpkin simpletons out on the Loop, he’s got another think coming.
Fazio says he plans to plunk a church in the close confines of this community.
But Fazio has yet to open a “church” that didn’t instantly morph into a busy wedding center replete with receptions serving alcohol.
Au contrair, he’ll interject. That business is run by his wife, Debi Fazio (or Debi Beyer-Fazio or Beyer Fazio sans hyphen, depending on the document).
But no matter whose name is on which part of this family affair, business has been brisk at both Reflections at the Buttes in Oro Valley and Reflections at Saguaro Buttes on Old Spanish Trail.
Wedding business, that is. The official “church” at Saguaro Buttes draws few parishioners.
Now Fazio is angling to open the Mesquite Grove Chapel at 1902 N. Tanque Verde Loop Road.
His other Reflections sites are sizable. Mesquite Grove, however, would occupy just 2.8 acres next to humble homes on the Loop.
“Is it a church or an event center?” asks Tina Whittemore, chief zoning inspector for Pima County. “If the whole purpose of the church is to front the weddings . . . it wouldn’t be allowed.”
She is awaiting documents from Fazio to demonstrate that the property will be used only for a church.
If Whittemore is not convinced, Fazio could appeal to the county Board of Adjustment.
In Oro Valley, Fazio filed a lawsuit against the city in July for failing to issue a certificate of occupancy after modifications to the business there.
Some elected officials fear Fazio may sue the county, too. But a lawsuit is the least of the Loop residents’ worries.
They’re most concerned about commercial traffic on a little-used country lane where children regularly ride bicycles and horses.
They worry that the mesquite forest on the site would be mowed down to create a parking lot.
And they fear the prospect of drinking, noise and bright lights from night wedding receptions, among other things.
But a lawsuit? “Mr. Fazio can bring it on. He picked the wrong neighborhood to do the wrong thing in,” says Murray Stein, who lives down a dirt lane off the Loop.
“We will follow this fight as far as it goes. And if Mr. Fazio succeeds in opening this business, he can look forward to picketers (when weddings are held there).”
Signs and banners opposing such a business already are displayed prominently along the Loop. If Fazio proceeds, Stein says, those banners will multiple, becoming veritable wallpaper along the roadway.
The fierce opposition is understandable.
A wedding center on the Loop would have little effect on most of us who live elsewhere in the Tanque Verde Valley.
But the Loop is truly the road less traveled.
Strangers don’t pass through because the neighborhood’s narrow, dirt side streets lead to dead ends.
Neighbors know and look out for one another, and strangers here stick out.
“This is such a special place, and we’ve so loved it,” says Karen Kartchner, whose rancher in-laws donated the Kartchner Caverns land that eventually became a state park.
“It’s just heartbreaking to think of this happening.”
An events center “just seems terribly inappropriate for this neighborhood,” says Ken Wise, who lives across the street from the Fazio site.
“This is one of the last remaining mesquite bosques in Pima County. . . . It’s dark out here, and he’s going to light up the place. And there are flooding issues,” Wise adds.
The residents are represented by county Supervisor Ray Carroll, who calls Fazio “the most pugnacious preacher I’ve encountered.”
As Loop residents await Whittemore’s ruling and Fazio’s next move, Carroll says, “They’re not only concerned about the midnight macarena. They’re concerned . . . whether this is more about credit cards than holy cards.”
Reach Billie Stanton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 573-4664.