After years of being restricted by flood zone regulations that made it difficult to improve or sell their homes, some of the riverside residents of the Berry Acres neighborhood in Marana may soon be seeing a glimmer of hope.
Marana has contracted with an engineering firm to re-examine the boundaries of the federally designated flood zone along the Santa Cruz River, and a preliminary study indicates a large portion of the neighborhood located near Trico-Marana Road could be reclassified from being in the floodway to the flood plain.
The $80,000 study by Kimley-Horne Associates is using a new type of computer modeling to re-evaluate land elevations and the susceptibility of flooding from Sanders Road north to the Pinal County line, Marana Assistant Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said.
The change in designation could mean a degree of relief for the 70 families in the Berry Acres and Berry Acres II neighborhoods who must receive a variance from the town to build on their land or improve their properties. The restrictions and cost of flood insurance have made selling a home located in the floodway next to impossible.
Reuwsaat said the town was "optimistically optimistic" based on early results from the study, but cautioned the study has not been finalized.
"It's new technology in flood plain leveling, but we have to make very clear that there will not be any change in the floodway status until the study is done, and no guarantee that it will change the designation at all. We have to wait for the final result, and then see if Pima County and the federal government accept it," Reuwsaat said.
The final report is expected to be completed in about six months, he said. Map revisions would then have to be forwarded to the Pima County Flood Control District and the Federal Emergency Manage-ment Agency for their approval.
"It's very preliminary, and we don't want to get people's hopes up yet, but from the first study it looks like we may be able to move two-thirds to three-quarters of the people from a floodway designation to a flood plain designation," Reuwsaat said.
The town informed Berry Acres residents of the new study at a meeting at Marana Middle School in North Marana Oct. 17.
Residents had been critical of Marana and Pima County for not fully informing them of a plan which began in July 2000 to buy out or voluntarily relocate neighbors from the rural subdivision.
The Pima County Flood Control District has purchased three properties located in the floodway and Marana has purchased two.
"They have not been telling us anything that's been going on," said Berry Acres resident David Franco. "People have been kept in the dark about any plans that Marana or Pima County has."
As a way of improving communications with the residents, the Marana Town Council Nov. 5 approved formation of an eight-member Berry Acres Citizens Advisory Council to help provide the neighborhood with information about the study, Reuwsaat said.
In addition to Franco, the committee is composed of residents Bob Honea, Sandra McElhannon, Bruce Dewey, Clayton Wengert, Robert McRea, Helen Key and Ginger Smead, Reuwsaat said.
Dewey, who has battled Marana and Pima County since the massive flooding that rolled through Marana in 1983 garnered most of Berry Acres the floodway designation, said he was pleased with the town's efforts to work with the neighbors.
"I think it's outstanding that Marana has committed to this study. It could help a lot of people who are in need," Dewey said.
Reuwsaat said the town has suspended its voluntary buy-out program while it awaits the outcome of the study.
Kurt Weinrich, director of Pima County's Department of Transportation and Flood Control District, said his department has not formally suspended the county's acquisition efforts in Berry Acres.
"We are waiting to see what comes out of the study," Weinrich said. "But I think we've always looked for opportunities as they arise."
County cost estimates made in 2000 put the price tag for relocation of all the Berry Acres neighbors at $3.5 million to acquire residents' property, and another $2 million to relocate them.
The two jurisdictions had planned to utilize some of the almost $2 million expected to be raised from impact fees tied to the lower Santa Cruz River levee, which was constructed in 2000.
A clause in a 1998 intergovernmental agreement between Marana and the county provided for a $500 fee on each acre of land converted from agricultural use to development.
The impact fee was to be paid to Marana by developers, and with the estimated $1.9 million in revenue it expected to receive, the town would then allocate the money to the county to pay for its share of the cost of constructing the soil-cement levee.
The $13 million levee, which stretches 7.3 miles from Avra Valley Road northwest to Sanders Road, raised more than 4,400 acres out of the floodway and flood plain and made it available for development.
The levee, which also protects Rillito and the Honea Heights subdivision, stopped about two miles short of Berry Acres, leaving its residents as the last residents in the Marana flood way.
The plan called for Marana and the county to reallocate some of the funds for Berry Acres buyouts, with the understanding that the relocation was voluntary.
Reuwsaat said no decision has been made as to whether that scenario will continue, depending on the outcome of the study.
"We're looking at all alternatives," Reuwsaat said.
The homes purchased by Marana and the county may be used as low income housing if the study redesignates the floodway, he said.
TWO OF FIVE BOUGHT OUT HAVE TOWN TIES
While only five Berry Acres residents have had their homes purchased by Pima County or the town of Marana remove them from the floodway, the lucky few includes a Marana official who helped administer the neighborhood's buyout program and the mother of a Marana Town Council member.
Dan Groseclose, Marana's Community Development Block Grant coordinator, was paid an unspecified amount by Pima County in February for his home and barn at 14200 W. Imogene Place, according to Pima County flood control records.
Groseclose, who also oversees the town's low-income housing program, is one of several town officials who have been managing Marana's efforts to resolve the floodway restrictions that have made it difficult for neighbors to sell or improve their homes. He did not return calls seeking comment.
Pima County Assessor's Office records show the home was owned jointly by Groseclose and his ex-wife Sandy Groseclose until the sale to Pima County. Sandy Groseclose is a former Marana town clerk and special events coordinator who is now director of the Marana Arts Council. Although the non-profit arts organization is not administered by Marana, Sandy Groseclose continues to draw a salary and benefits from Marana while on loan to the arts council.
Pima County Flood Control records did not list how much the Grosecloses received for their home, but county assessor's office records listed the full cash value of the land and structures as $91,193 before the sale and $88,577 after it became the property of the county's flood control district.
Guadalupe Escobedo, mother of Marana Town Councilmember Tim Escobedo, had her home at 14385 W. Imogene Place purchased by the town of Marana for $31,500 last year.
The purchase was approved by the Marana Town Council on Jan. 2 as an item on the consent agenda. The consent agenda contains minor items which generally do not merit discussion by the council. Records show Escobedo filed notice of a conflict with the town clerk's office and did not vote on the item, which was submitted for consideration by Dan Groseclose.
"I had no financial stake in it," Escobedo said "My parents are very low income. Their home went through the flood of '83 and their home is almost 30 years old. It's an old manufactured home and it is difficult to replace. I most definitely distanced myself from the process. The selection is by a list that the town started and we had requested that they be on the list."
Marana Assistant Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said of the five residents who have had their homes purchased, three were bought by Pima County and two were bought by Marana.
Reuwsaat said resident Herb Jones was the first to have his home purchased by Marana in February of 2001 for $25,000. The town then forwarded a list to Pima County of four other homeowners seeking buyouts.
The county approved three of the purchases, including the Grosecloses' home, but Marana was told the town would have to foot the bill for any other purchases, Reuwsaat said.
"They (Escobedo) were the first one in requesting assistance for relocation. We submitted a letter to the county after we had four people apply for acquisition of their homes. We got a response back from the county that they would do the others but not Escobedo," he said.
The other Berry Acres residents to have their properties purchased were Daniel and Kathryn Fry and Tracy and Lora Haralson, Reuwsaat said.
Since the initial five purchases were approved, six more residents seeking buyouts have been added to the list, Reuwsaat said.
"But right now we've suspended that. Depending on what happens with the floodway and stuff, we may have to develop a new list and establish new criteria," Reuwsaat said.