After a string of residents expressed dissatisfaction over an attempt to rezone a parcel of land near Frank Reed Road, the Nogales City Council voted to table the motion altogether.
Speaking at a call to the public Wednesday evening, residents in the Mariposa Hills subdivision alleged that the rezoning effort had been secretive, and that the parcel’s landowner – Public Works Director Alejandro Barcenas – had not done his due diligence in communicating with local residents about the zone change.
“Where are we protected as citizens from this process?” said resident Jose Valencia. “Where is it transparent? Where is it fair?”
For weeks, the council has been deliberating on whether to reclassify a 20-acre patch of land as a multi-family housing zone. Currently, the area can only be used for single-family housing projects, and the change would allow developers to build townhomes or apartments in the area.
The land parcel is owned by Los Adobes, an LLC managed by Barcenas.
However, that detail hadn’t been publicly disclosed during any council meetings, until Jan. 24, when Councilman John Doyle broached the issue.
Samuel Paz, the city’s development services director, said Barcenas was not involved with the rezoning effort. And City Attorney Jose Luis Machado said Paz had informed city staff – though not the public – that Barcenas was the parcel’s landowner.
It’s not illegal for a city employee, council member or department head to pursue land development projects. What’s more, Paz and Machado told the council that the Los Adobes application had been properly vetted.
However, Vice Mayor Hector Bojorquez and Councilwoman Liza Montiel joined Doyle in voting against the project during the Jan. 24 session, and it deadlocked in a 3-3 tie.
During the meeting on Wednesday, Valencia noted that while the city is required to give residents a notice about a nearby rezoning effort, that hadn’t happened for some of his neighbors.
“The majority of the people here say that they didn’t receive them,” Valencia said, gesturing to others at the meeting.
When it came time to vote, Mayor Jorge Maldonado made a motion to table the item until a later date. The next regular city council meeting is set for Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.
Arson charged dismissed against restaurant owner
Five-and-a-half years after Cunningham’s Ranch House Restaurant in Sonoita was destroyed by a fire, federal authorities arrested one of the owners last November and charged him with starting the blaze.
But now, just three months after his arrest, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has asked a judge to dismiss the arson allegation against 74-year-old Robert I. Cunningham, Jr.
In a motion filed Feb. 1 at U.S. District Court in Tucson, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Brown asked the judge in the case to dismiss the complaint without prejudice, meaning the charges could potentially be brought again.
In his motion, Brown told the judge that: “Due to recent developments in this case, the government must conduct further investigation.” Judge Leslie Bowman promptly granted the request.
The Patagonia Regional Times first reported the news of the dismissal.
A probable cause statement from an ATF agent that was included in the initial complaint against Cunningham alleged that a fire marshal’s initial scene examination determined that the May 11, 2017 fire at the restaurant was “incendiary.” An ATF explosives technician subsequently identified five “improvised incendiary bombs” – Budweiser bottles filled with gasoline – that were used in connection with the fire.
The agent also alleged that while Cunningham had claimed to have been home in Patagonia at when the fire started, his phone connected to a tower behind the restaurant at the time. A surveillance camera also allegedly recorded a SUV that looked like Cunningham’s in the alleyway behind the restaurant at the time of ignition.
Finally, the authorities said a source who allegedly had first-hand knowledge told investigators that Cunningham had told them on the night of the fire that he had started it.
Nogales City Cemetery returning to nightly closures
The Nogales City Cemetery is set to return to pre-pandemic hours, with the gates to be locked nightly from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The change is planned to take effect on Monday, according to Parks and Recreation Director Renée Travers.
The overnight closure had been in practice prior to COVID-19, but the city started leaving the gates open 24 hours per day during the pandemic.
“We are now returning to the previous hours that are still posted at the cemetery,” Travers wrote in an email.
NPD warns of phone scam
The Nogales Police Department is warning community members of a scam in which people posing as NPD administrators call local citizens to ask for personal information and request money.
“Nogales Police Department Administration would not call the general public requesting personal information or financial assistance of any kind,” NPD said Tuesday in a social media post.
“If you receive any of these types of calls, please report this to your local law enforcement agency,” it said.
County’s weekly COVID-19 case count down to 15
The Santa Cruz County Health Services Department added 15 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 to its tallies during the week ending Wednesday.
The tallies of new cases during the previous three weeks were 26, 29 and 25.
The county also added one new hospitalization related to COVID-19 to its dashboard during the week ending Feb. 8. The number of deaths remained unchanged.
At the state level, the Arizona Department of Health reported 3,099 new weekly cases on Wednesday, virtually unchanged from the 3,087 new cases the previous week.