The Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission postponed a hearing last week that would have advanced plans for a massive housing development north of Marana because Pima County and Marana were not notified as required under state law.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat expressed concern earlier this month that they had received little information about the proposed La Osa Ranch development.
Both jurisdictions protested that they had not received official notice from Pinal County about the hearing.
As one of the largest developments ever planned in Southern Arizona, La Osa would place up to 67,073 homes and two resorts on 22,150 acres of farm and ranch land west of Interstate 10 near Red Rock.
Officials from Pima County, Marana, Arizona Department of Transportation and Marana Unified School District have said the project could have detrimental effects in northern Pima County. The project is expected to develop over 20 years and could add more than 150,000 people to the rural region.
Environmentalists worry the 16-mile long development could impact the Ironwood Forest National Monument that lies south of the project and the Arizona Army National Guard is voicing its concern that the development could interfere with attack helicopter training missions it mounts from Pinal Air Park.
Patricia Grieb, deputy Pinal County attorney, told the Pinal Planning and Zoning Commission at its meeting in Florence Nov. 20 that she had determined the previous day that the commission could not consider the rezoning and formation of an overlay district for La Osa it was scheduled to vote on.
"The public hearing cannot be heard, it won't be opened and no public comment will be taken because if the commission proceeded, anything that it would do would be invalid. This is what they call jurisdictional notice. The legal advice is that this can not move forward," Grieb told the commission.
The matters will be considered at a planning and zoning hearing scheduled for Dec. 18, Grieb said. The Pinal Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider amending the county's comprehensive plan for La Osa Ranch at its Dec. 3 meeting. Both meetings are scheduled in Florence.
Grieb referred questions about the postponement to Joe Pyritz, Pinal County's public information officer.
"What I think it came down to was that the project extends down to touch Marana and Marana wasn't notified," he said.
Pyritz said he was unsure if the failure to notify Pima County also played a role in the decision to postpone the hearing.
Both Marana and Pima County border the project and Arizona law requires notification of " …each county and municipality which is contiguous to the amendment or change," as well as anyone owning property within 300 feet of the project at least 15 days before the hearing.
In a Nov. 10 e-mail sent to Huckelberry, Reuwsaat and Sharon Bronson, chairwoman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Pima County Planner Jim Mazzocco said Pinal County planners had told him they were considering pulling the rezoning back 300 feet to avoid having to notify the jurisdictions or postponing the hearing until proper notifications could be made.
"I think they were just thinking out loud when they told me that," Mazzocco said in a phone interview. "Either way, they decided to just postpone the hearing after all."
Mazzocco sent a letter to Pinal County planners on the day of the postponed hearing outlining Pima County's concerns.
The letter targeted traffic generated by La Osa and environmental concerns. It noted one of only two access points to the project from Interstate 10 is located a half mile from the county line and La Osa residents would be traveling to Pima County for employment and services.
"This proposal will undoubtedly affect Pima County infrastructure capacity and the quality of life for residents in this northern region of Pima County … Pima County presently has no means to augment the capacity to accommodate the demand created by non-Pima County residents," Mazzocco wrote.
Dennis Alvarez, the Arizona Department of Transportation's district engineer for Tucson, said in an interview Nov. 14 that the state had not budgeted money for improvements to I-10 to handle the traffic La Osa would generate.
Mazzocco's letter noted Pima County was striving to restrict development in the region south of La Osa Ranch by setting land use goals that would preserve 75 percent to 95 percent of the land as open space.
The letter mentioned the impact La Osa could have on the migration routes of bighorn rams and other endangered species such as the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.
"It would be a tragedy for Pinal County to approve the proposed La Osa development without full disclosure of its impacts," Mazzocco wrote.
E-mails circulating last week from the radical environmental organization Earth First! said caravans were being organized from Tucson to Florence for the Dec. 3 Board of Supervisors meeting to protest La Osa.
Suzanne Shields, director of the Pima County Flood Control District, said she was drafting a letter to express Pima County's concern that road projects on La Osa's western border could backup drainages that flow north into Pinal County.
Marana, which sent a representative to the Nov. 20 Pinal County hearing, was also in the process of drafting a letter of concern, said Jim DeGrood, the town's development administrator.
"We are concerned about flood control issues, but probably the biggest issue for us is transportation. Putting a community like that on our flanks is going to have regional transportation impacts," DeGrood said.
In a Nov. 17 memo to the Marana mayor and council, DeGrood outlined some of the specific transportation concerns, particularly about two I-10 interchanges that lie just north of Marana.
"No forecasts of any traffic counts for either Pinal Air Park Road or Sasco Road, the two access points to La Osa Ranch, have been made. Both of these interchanges along Interstate 10 are functionally obsolete and will be rapidly congested, potentially creating operational problems on Interstate 10 and trip diversions through Marana … Pinal County has not engaged Marana, ADOT or Pima County in any discussions regarding impacts that this project may have on our respective jurisdictions," DeGrood wrote.
Marana Unified School District is concerned it may have to accommodate students from La Osa and Superintendent Rick Lesko said they are researching the issue.
Representatives from the Arizona Army National Guard attended the Nov. 20 hearing in Florence but refused comment after the meeting. A spokesman said in an interview earlier this week the Guard was concerned La Osa could hinder operations at the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site based at Pinal Air Park southeast of La Osa.
Also known as the Silverbell Army Heliport, the facility primarily trains pilots and crews to fly and service AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. The aircraft, armed with live ammunition, are flown to training missions at the Barry M. Goldwater Gunnery Range near Gila Bend and would pass over La Osa on their way to a staging area near Picacho.
"They're flying low level armed with munitions and we are concerned that the development could interfere with our operations," said Michael Virgin, director of joint programs for the state's department of emergency and military affairs. "We had planned on communicating those concerns at the Nov. 20 meeting but it was postponed."
Representatives from Johnson Internation-al, the Scottsdale company owned by developer George Johnson that is building La Osa Ranch, did not return phone calls requesting comment.