July 13, 2005 - The ancient Hohokam land located in the northern part of Oro Valley will be preserved with little access for education or research, according to a plan approved by the town council.
The concept plan for Honeybee Village now will be forwarded to Pima County officials and members of the Tohono O'odham nation for their examination.
Mayor Paul Loomis said the concept plan is a good one, arrived at through the work of many people, but that "there are many years to come on this project," and some details are yet to be planned.
A preliminary agreement was reached earlier this month among the town, the county, the developer and the Tohono O'odham nation to preserve the archeological site of Honeybee Village, an area the Hohokam people called home for about 1,000 years. The Hohokam culture disappeared from the Tucson area by 1450 A.D. and Honeybee Village is the only village site still largely intact in the town.
The area is part of the Rancho Vistoso planned area development. It is being developed by Cañada Vista Homes and is northeast of Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, near Moore Road. Through the agreement, about 13 acres of the 78-acre site would be dedicated as public land and protected for archeological conservation. The core site was determined through archeological testing in 1989 to have 300 Hohokam pithouses, a central plaza, large trash mounds and a stone-walled compound on it, making it the area with the highest concentration of features on the entire site.
Acquisition of the Honeybee Village land is part of the 2004 Pima County Bond projects.
Town representatives met for months with the interested parties, including the developer of the land, to negotiate this agreement, and Community Development Director Brent Sinclair said the $1 million from the bond funds will cover the cost of acquisition.
Further steps will be taken to study and preserve the site, including submittal of a development plan by the landowner, surveying of the site, placement of the site in public ownership and archeological fieldwork and testing.
According to the concept plan approved by the council at its July 6 meeting, only limited research and excavation will be permitted on the site.
Charles Deans, of Community ByDesign, helped put together the plan along with a "key planning group" of town staff, county officials, Tohono O'odham representatives, Arizona State Museum representatives and the developer. He said it may end up that no such work is allowed and added that members of the Tohono O'odham nation who participated in the preparation of the concept plan support the least amount of disturbance on the site as is possible and are particularly concerned with what happens to any human burial sites that exist on the land.
Council members also expressed concern about what would happen on the remaining portion of the property that is being developed if any human remains were unearthed, and Deans explained that there is an existing process in place through the state historic preservation office for those situations.
The key planning group was tasked to find the most suitable area on the overall site for preservation that would feature the best archeological remains and would be the best use of the $1 million. Although there were other areas of archeological significance on the 78 acres, this core area was identified as the best site because of the concentration of artifacts and features.
Deans said it was the consensus of the planning group that the site be a preserve. For this reason, the concept plan includes recommendations that the area be walled off but that the wall be low so that the core is integrated with the surrounding residential development that will eventually be built.
This part of the plan raised some concern with council members who worry about easy access to the park providing an open opportunity for people to enter unauthorized and either intentionally or accidentally harm the site or artifacts on it.
Deans said the park will probably be closed after dark and that travel within the park will be restricted to the pathway. He said he hopes neighbors will be alert to any activity on the site and will alert authorities to anything suspicious.
He said that while the site should be protected, "we want to do that without making it look like Fort Knox," by building high walls and adding other security measures.
Loomis said security of the site has been a concern since planning first started for the site and that the details will continue to be worked out as the plan moves along toward completion.
There will be interpretive educational features within the core, but the group recommends few of these features. Councilwoman Conny Culver said she hopes some hands-on educational activities can be developed so people, particularly children, can learn about the site without feeling the urge to reach out and touch the delicate artifacts.
"Children need to touch," she said, in recommending that replicas could perhaps be onsite.
Deans said that there was discussion about these types of features in the park and that the group decided educational features would be best for an area near the park but off the actual preservation site.
A commercial development is planned for just outside the core area, and in that development, it is recommended that public restrooms, shared parking and possible educational facilities be built.
The group also is recommending that the trails to the park be connected to at least one of the trails in the regional trail system to encourage people to walk to the park.
Within the park, several pedestrian paths will provide access to the public for viewing the site, and shaded areas and seating also are being recommended in the concept plan. Interpretive brochures and signs will allow visitors to conduct self-guided tours, and a docent program also is a possibility, Deans said.
Access to the park will be from Moore Road, once it is aligned and extended.