Dr. J.A. Phelps

Dr. J.A. Phelps speaks before the Safford Planning & Zoning Commission.

SAFFORD — A plan to open a veterinary clinic in Safford appeared to be on the rocks after the property’s owner declined to work with city officials on a zoning issue.

Dr. J.A. Phelps, a Sonoita veterinarian, purchased the former Swings & Things sports park, located at 380 Entertainment Ave., in April 2019. Phelps said his plan was to open a mixed animal hospital, treating both small animals and horses, at the onetime miniature golf course and driving range.

Phelps said he and his family planned to move to Safford partly because of its school system, adding that Sonoita lacked a high school for his children to attend, but also because he liked the city. Phelps added that, with 29 years of experience, he hoped to become the “old guy” who helped younger veterinarians develop their skills.

However, he was apparently unable to work through a disagreement over zoning codes. The property is part of Safford’s C-2 highway commercial district. Permitted uses under the C-2 district include small animal clinics and hospitals, but not large animal clinics like Phelps’ proposed equine surgery facility.

The district also permits “other like businesses when approved by the zoning administrator,” and Phelps argued his facility should qualify under that clause.

Safford Planning and Community Development Director Susan Anderson did not agree, and explained her reasoning at an Aug. 15 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting. Anderson said facilities for large and small animals were not sufficiently “like” and would impact the community differently.

Phelps made his case to the commissioners during a public comment section of the hearing, both verbally and through a written proposal. When commissioners advised him to work with Anderson toward a solution, he replied that he could not. Phelps said he and his wife were inclined to relist the property for sale instead.

Anderson said Phelps could have gone ahead with the application, which she would have rejected, then appealed her decision to the City Council. He could also have asked for a text amendment, as the Gila Valley Ministerial Association did in a rezoning request for a homeless shelter.

After Phelps’ departure, the commission asked if Anderson could look into the possibility of modifying the C-2 district to include large animal clinics in the future.

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