There’s a mile stretch of rural road here in the Valley that serves as a scenic alternative artery from our place in the desert to the places where we shop for groceries and do things like banking and mailing. We also use it to commute to volleyball and soccer venues. Not a week goes by when we don’t travel both south and north down this road about a half dozen times.
It’s called the Tanque Verde Loop. And it’s currently under siege.
We moved to the Valley 12 years ago and started using this route to avoid extra stoplights and traffic. Coming from the REALLY rural Wisconsin Northwoods, I’d grown accustomed to a twenty-minute highway drive to the nearest grocery store with nary a stoplight in sight. And aside from the pastoral tranquility of the Loop, the wash that runs through it is lined with deciduous cottonwoods trees, which have the power to make any displaced Midwesterner looking for seasons feel at home.
Driving through the loop now, the cottonwoods are in the deep background of the multitude of protest signs that have sprung up ever since a “fat cat” named John Fazio purchased three acres smack dab in the middle of this mile at 1902 N. Tanque Verde Loop. According to neighborhood activists, Fazio has designated this property as a non-profit church, but at the same time intends to follow a practiced business plan of also using it for a full-service wedding operation. He’s named it “Mesquite Grove Chapel,” and has claimed the site is capable of holding 70 weddings per year.
Fazio and his wife, Debi, own two additional church-slash-wedding businesses, Reflections at the Buttes, a church and event hall in Oro Valley, and the Saguaro Buttes Community Church on Old Spanish Trail. Currently Reflections at the Buttes has so many requests for weddings that they hold them not only on weekends but on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. Since 2001, it has hosted over 2500 weddings. Saguaro Buttes, on the other hand, holds “several weddings per month,” and claims they account for 12 percent of the church’s use.
According to a July/August 2008 magazine article in Millionaire Blueprints, “the Fazios pull in more than $2.7 million in gross sales” from their wedding operation. They claim all profits go into non-profit organizations “including local churches,” and that they take only a “modest salary.”
Regardless of what Fazio makes, donates or keeps, and whether or not he is gaming the zoning system, at the heart of the issue for Loop residents is not the church part of Fazio’s operation. Instead it’s his wedding operation. They simply don’t want 70 wedding receptions per year in their quiet neighborhood. Just read the signs wallpapering the fences and gates along the road and the sentiment is quite clear.
Since the opposition from the Save Tanque Verde Valley Group and the Tanque Verde Valley Association has come to light, Fazio seems to be backpedaling a bit with his statements, advertisements and his intentions; however in Millionaire Blueprints, he exposed his plans for Mesquite Grove as a wedding/reception operation for couples “who don’t want any sense of the desert” as their venue. “Nevertheless,” he said referring to his other wedding operations, “the programs are identical.”
This means he’s calling it a church to achieve the non-profit tax status and obtain the zoning permit, but using it as a wedding reception venue to make money.
And one more thing: In spite of the neighborhood groups’ valid concerns, in an October 30, 2008 article in the AZ Daily Star, “Fazio calls neighborhood opposition to his church a sad misunderstanding.” He says “it’s reflective of the gap between people of faith who attend a church on a regular basis and the general populace.”
Good God! And this man calls himself a minister? I believe a statement like that makes Fazio far more than a mere wolf.
It makes him an asshole.