June 19, 2008

Legal Fight Over Scenic Road

By Brian J. Pedersen, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jun. 19--A Pima County resident whose property borders a development featuring million-dollar lots is suing the developer over a dispute involving a rugged dirt road through the Tortolita Mountains.

Theresa Chamberlain, who owns 20 acres just west of the 1,035-acre Saguaro Ranch development, on June 3 filed a verified complaint in Pima County Superior Court claiming that a public easement that runs north of her property is being deliberately blocked.

A preliminary hearing to discuss the issue is scheduled for Friday.

The complaint says representatives of Saguaro Ranch "piled boulders and other items" across the road to "prohibit ingress and egress access to the public." The boulders were removed and replaced at least twice, the complaint states.

The complaint also alleges that commercial and residential structures were built on the public easement, including portions of McClintock's, an upscale restaurant, and septic facilities for a home built for Saguaro Ranch developer Stephen Phinny.

"It looks like it actually runs right through the middle of their restaurant," Stephen Weeks, Chamberlain's lawyer, said of the easement.

Chamberlain's complaint also states that on May 25, Chamberlain was "wrongfully and unlawfully restrained, against her will," after the Marana Police Department was called to the area to arrest her on an accusation of trespassing, despite instructions by the town's legal department to the police not to intervene in the matter because it is a civil issue.

Weeks said Chamberlain was detained for 15 to 20 minutes but was not cited.

Frank Cassidy, Marana's town attorney, said the town is doing its best to stay out of the matter.

He said the only action the town could take would be to assert the public's right to the easement, then abandon it. But then, Cassidy said, people such as Chamberlain still could claim a private right to use the road, which the complaint states Chamberlain has used as a walking and equestrian path.

Weeks said Chamberlain is asking that the road remain open to the public so people can take in the scenery of the Tortolitas.

"It is some of the most beautiful land in all of Southern Arizona," Weeks said. "It is absolutely stunning. That path has been there for over 30 years. It's always been used for the nature aspect."

Joe Tarver, vice president of the Saguaro Ranch Development Corp., referred all questions regarding the Chamberlain lawsuit to Craig Keller, the attorney who handled the complaint.

Keller could not be reached to comment for this story.

Chamberlain's suit isn't the first legal battle Saguaro Ranch has been involved in regarding public access to the area around the development.

Residents on the eastern side of Saguaro Ranch have been battling for more than a year to retain access along an easement that has been used for trail access into Tortolita Mountain Park, which lies north of Saguaro Ranch.

It is absolutely stunning. That path has been there for over 30 years. It's always been used for the nature aspect.

Stephen Weeks

Lawyer for the complainant

--Contact reporter Brian J. Pedersen at 434-4079 or [email protected]


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