Pima County, the State Land Department and the Town of Oro Valley have worked long and hard to structure the development and annexation of Arroyo Grande, the state parcel on Oro Valley’s north border.
Work on an Oro Valley general plan amendment, which has incorporated a large swath of open space between two mountain ranges as a wildlife corridor, is precedent-setting negotiation for all of Arizona. As it now stands, all interests can win. Land can be sold and developed to the benefit of state trust coffers. Oro Valley can have assurances that its services can be ideally delivered, and its expanded space wisely managed. Wildlife and open space advocates can see preservation of a large, beautiful desert tract into perpetuity.
Or so it appears … but not to County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. He wants a commitment from the state, now, that open space within Arroyo Grande be available for purchase at “conservation values” before zoning is applied. “The lack of specificity for open space preservation at conservation value leaves open the fact that there is no assurance that the open space specified in the plan will ever be obtained,” he wrote.
Huckelberry has identified conservation values at $1,000 an acre. That’s what the county is willing to pay. If it’s more, someone else has to pay.
Huckelberry isn’t getting what he wants procedurally, and he’s not pleased. The county has withdrawn itself from the discussion. “We now need to focus our attention where open space acquisitions are possible in the near term,” Huckelberry writes.
Huckelberry’s public outcry is attention-getting, but may be premature. The county, the town and the state can all get what they publicly desire, and what the public wants — a well-planned development with 70 percent protected open space — if processes are allowed to move forward.
In a letter to Huckelberry, Town Manager David Andrews thanks him for the partnership, lauds the work of county employees, and expresses Oro Valley’s desire “to continue to be collaborative and be responsive to our partners.” The town is somewhere in the middle of a three-way negotiation. It is striking balances with both the state and the county.
But make no mistake — Oro Valley is going to demand that State Land do what it says it will about open space. “We intend to hold the State Land Department to their public commitment and hope you will continue working as a member of the team to see this to the end,” said Andrews. “Together we can bring a significant portion of public lands into perpetual preservation for generations to come.”
Huckelberry, who wishes Andrews “good luck in holding the State Land Department to their open space commitment for the Arroyo Grande General Plan,” should not underestimate Oro Valley’s clout in the process. The State Land Department does not have the resources to deliver water, sewer, police, transportation and other services to the developed north end of Arroyo Grande. It needs Oro Valley to do that. And, Andrews makes very clear, Oro Valley wants the open space protected. Lack of such protection is a deal breaker, Andrews has said. That’s a deal the state can’t afford to break.
Beyond such politics, the people of Oro Valley, Pima County and southeastern Arizona want open space protected, and they expect state government to do its part. On Saturday, north of Moore Road, three deer — interestingly, a young buck, a doe and a fawn — bounded toward a wash on the Tortolita Fan, stopping traffic, pedestrians and cyclists alike. Everyone who saw them, headed toward Arroyo Grande, thought the same thing. “What a great, beautiful place this is.”
Let’s keep it that way, in this instance by allowing a process to move ahead, and by making sure state government sells open space for preservation at a fair price.