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Council opts not to fight Florence Copper's state permit
  • Updated

FLORENCE — Possibly signaling a new direction after several years of fighting Florence Copper in court, the Town Council voted 5-2 Monday against appealing the company’s state permit for full-scale commercial mining.

State regulators granted the permit last month. The company still needs approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Only Mayor Tara Walter and Councilman John Anderson voted in favor of pursuing the appeal Monday after a two-hour closed-door recess for legal advice. According to a memo from town staff, filing an appeal and related actions were estimated to cost the town $50,000. According to the resolution the council rejected, the town had until Jan. 7 to appeal the state permit.

Florence Copper has been producing copper off Hunt Highway in a small-scale test phase since April 2019. Russell Hallbauer, CEO and director of parent company Taseko Mines Limited, said last month the state permit was “a key milestone” for Florence Copper, and the company expects the EPA permit to follow in early 2021.

As Monday’s meeting began, Linda Turner told the council that the town has lost every appeal so far and “I don’t understand why the town continues to pursue this. … a lot of the town wants this to end.”

Taseko reacted in a press release Tuesday.

“We are very pleased by this decision and believe this change in approach by council signals a new beginning. Our expectation is that open and productive dialogue will result and that our future together is bright,” said Taseko President Stuart McDonald.

“We believe that two years of operating the test facility within the strict environmental guidelines set out in our current permits, combined with the future economic benefits from the commercial production facility, certainly contributed to council’s decision,” McDonald continued. “Transitioning Florence Copper to commercial production, which includes expanding the current wellfield and SX/EW plant, will mean an average of 85 million pounds of copper per year for 20 years beginning in late 2022.”

The Florence Copper NI 43-101 technical report is available on www.sedar.com or the company’s website at www.tasekomines.com.

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New ordinance would govern recreational marijuana in Florence
  • Updated

FLORENCE — There are no known plans for a recreational marijuana dispensary in Florence, but an ordinance is pending before the Town Council that would allow one.

The council heard the first reading of an ordinance regulating the sale and use of recreational marijuana in town, in keeping with the passage of Arizona’s Proposition 207 in November. The council took no action Monday and will consider approval at some future date.

Town Manager Brent Billingsley told the council town code pertaining to medical marijuana is fairly strict, while the ordinance being proposed now for recreational marijuana is “on the lenient side,” based on his conversations with individual council members.

The new ordinance allows for a “stand-alone” recreational marijuana dispensary (as opposed to a combined medical/recreational dispensary). As allowed by Prop. 207, many cities and towns are prohibiting stand-alone dispensaries. Florence has no medical marijuana providers, so it can either authorize or prohibit a stand-alone store, according to a town staff report.

Councilman John Anderson said the town should allow one for the sales tax revenue. Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes agreed, adding that in Colorado, where marijuana has been legal for a few years, sales were $199.7 million in October.

Councilman Arthur “Snake” Neal said a local dispensary would be preferable to residents with permission to grow their own. He said his law enforcement experience has shown him home growing leads to problems, including the drug getting into the wrong hands.

The current version of the ordinance prohibits a marijuana testing facility in Florence, but Cordes said the town shouldn’t be too hasty. “I wouldn’t want us to shut it out without a better understanding of what it is.”

The ordinance prohibits delivery of marijuana unless permitted by the state for medical purposes. But Councilwoman Kristen Larsen noted delivery could keep an impaired person off the road.

The ordinance also prohibits smoking in a public place or open space and prohibits cultivation, manufacture, use, possession or sale on property owned or controlled by the town.

As for whether the town should require a marijuana business to obtain a conditional use permit from the town, “I say no,” Cordes said. Like a liquor store, these businesses already have to obtain a state license, she said, and “it’s not easy and it’s not cheap.”

The council also discussed whether to require “buffers” between a marijuana business and homes or other businesses. Billingsley noted the town has buffers for bars and liquor stores.

Larsen said the town buffers food trucks for reasons of noise and other restaurants, but a dispensary is just a store selling something.

Florence considers redevelopment plan update that promotes historic character
  • Updated

FLORENCE — Strategies for drawing more residents, visitors and businesses to the downtown area are part of Florence’s pending Redevelopment Plan update.

The draft plan includes four main priorities, with associated goals, strategies and land use goals to promote a vibrant and resilient Redevelopment Area. It updates the town’s 2009 Redevelopment Plan. The Town Council could consider approval in early spring.

The plan’s four key priorities are:

  • History — Encouraging new and redevelopment of existing historic assets for their preservation and conservation.
  • Identity — Establishing the Redevelopment Area with a recognizable streetscape and design that results in quality development and consistent design, and provides a setting for events and activities that attract visitors and enrich the downtown economy.
  • Economy — Attracting diverse economic activities appropriate to the character of the area.
  • Community — Connecting residents and businesses who advocate for the Redevelopment Area.

The Redevelopment Area includes a wide area on both sides of North and South Main Street, plus 170 or so acres south of the Gila River in the town’s North End Framework Vision Plan. An area just south of the Redevelopment Area along State Route 287 is included in the plan as a “Gateway District.”

“We think destination tourism is a real opportunity for the Redevelopment Area. Florence is one of the few really historic Western downtowns,” consultant Leslie Dornfeld told Florence’s Historic District Advisory Commission on Dec. 30. She suggested the town look for ways to collaborate with other authentic Western towns such as Wickenburg and Tombstone to promote Arizona as a Southwest historical resource, and “the kinds of things people want to come to see, which are cowboys.

“We think it’s important that the downtown gets branded, creating a logo for it. You need street signs, and you have done some of this.” There must also be signs on Interstate 10 and nearby state highways touting the historic downtown Florence business district.

“People just need to know it’s there, and even if they know it’s there, they need to be reminded,” Dornfeld said.

As workers are drawn to the future Lucid and Nikola auto plants and other employers, some could choose to live in Florence if the town has housing options that are competitively priced and hard to find in the surrounding area, the plan says.

“We want to make sure that all new development is appropriate to its context, that’s why we have the design guidelines, and you also have the historic townsite guidelines,” Dornfeld told the historic commission.

Revitalizing the town’s historic buildings and conserving the historic character of Main Street is a key plan component, according to the written plan. To read the plan, visit the town website at florenceaz.gov and click on “Redevelopment Plan Update” in the middle of the home page.

Among the findings in the written plan:

  • The Redevelopment Area accounts for 6% of the town’s non-prison population. Overall town population increased 42% between 2000 and 2019, while population in the Redevelopment Area declined very slightly over the same period.
  • The town and the Redevelopment Area have a larger share of population without a high school diploma or college degree as compared to Pinal County and the “trade area” (surrounding area up to 45 minutes away by car). Florence has a high percentage of Millennial-aged residents (ages 20-39) compared to the county and the trade area. Florence’s median age is 37.1.
  • Florence experiences retail “leakage” (residents spending money out-of-town) in all categories except for food and beverage and restaurants/bars. At an average of $300 sales per square foot, the leakage categories reflect demand for approximately 100,000 additional square feet of retail uses within Florence. Some of this demand could be met in the Redevelopment Area, including sporting goods (connected to the Gila River and bicycling), and Western-themed hobby, book and music stores.
  • Home values in the Redevelopment Area are low relative to the town, Pinal County and the trade area. The 2019 Redevelopment Area median home value is $86,170, which is 59% lower than Florence at $208,546. The median home value in Florence is 4% higher than in Pinal County ($199,633), but 26% lower than the median home value in the trade area ($280,871). Mobile homes account for nearly 30% of the housing stock in Florence, compared to 19% in Pinal County and 17.5% in the trade area.
  • About 72% of the land in the Redevelopment Area is owned by government and public entities. Of the 101 acres of non-publicly owned parcels, 33% are residential, 42% are commercial/religious and 13% are vacant.
  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument attracts over 65,000 visitors annually. In 2018, over 100,000 people visited Biosphere 2 in Oracle. The Windmill Winery is busy most weekends hosting weddings and large events. Country Thunder, which is held 5 miles outside the Redevelopment Area, attracts a daily attendance totaling 140,000 people over four days.