Catalina village officials are hoping a proposed 190-acre development will provide the springboard to a new 25-acre park for residents and a 15-acre Amphi-theater Public Schools K-5 school site.
Officials are so optimistic about the possibilities that they've already begun asking residents what they would like to see on the site. Suggestions so far include offices for the village's Catalina Community Services Center, a library, Pima County Sheriff's Department substation, health clinic, ball fields, picnic areas, a meeting room for 200 people, Olympic-size swimming pool, a basketball court, tennis court and soccer and football fields.
There are numerous obstacles in the way, most hinging on the Pima County Board of Supervisors' approval of rezoning that would allow the development of approximately 500 homes on 190 acres bounded by Mainsail Boulevard on the north, Columbus Boulevard on the east and Hawser Street on the south. The 40-acre site is in the southeast corner of the proposed development.
Developers Michael Carlier and Chris Sheafe have offered to dedicate the 40 acres in exchange for the board's rezoning approval. The request is expected to be submitted within the next 30 days but is unlikely to be reviewed by the board until the third quarter of this year, Carlier said.
Carlier isn't expecting the proposal to sail through the approval process easily, but Catalina officials are more optimistic, hoping developers might even donate the land in exchange for Catalina's support of the High Mesa project.
The parcel in question is one of the last large sections of privately owned open space in the area. Residents are generally opposed to densities higher than one home per acre and Carlier had a major battle on his hands before getting approval for his Black Horse Ranch development of 414 homes on 183 acres to the south in 2001. The Amphitheater School District dropped its opposition only after Carlier agreed to donate to the district $1,200 per home for future school facilities.
"Residents gave Black Horse a lot of grief," said Greater Catalina/Golder Ranch Village Council Chairwoman Jan Johnson. "Catalina residents as a rule don't want to see the higher densities. Everybody loves their one-home-per-acre, which is most of our zoning, and they don't like to see subdivisions coming in."
Village officials, however, are counting on residents' understanding of the need for improved facilities and the fact that this development backs up against the Twin Lakes development to the west which has densities identical to those proposed for High Mesa. Councilmember Ken Conrad also warned that even if the county approves the project, voters may still have to approve a bond issue in spring 2004 to finance paying for the land and developing the site.
"We're not anywhere near to having this nailed down and signed," but officials are encouraged by the possibilities, Conrad said. Funding sources other than bond money, such as Community Development Block Grants and donations, as well as the sale of county-owned property resulting from the consolidation of various services also will be pursued to allay costs, he said.
These would include the sale of the building and nearly two acres on which the overused Catalina Recreation Center built by volunteers in the 1970s is located, as well as savings by the relocation of the Pima County Sheriff's Department substation and library from their present sites in a strip shopping center.
There is no doubt that the village is in desperate need of a park and community center, said Johnson, adding that time is of the essence.
Among the more immediately pressing problems is the situation the nonprofit Catalina Community Services is facing with its cramped quarters in a nearly 1,500 square-foot building at 3414 E. Golder Road.
The building, built in the early 1970s by Lloyd Golder III and later donated to the community for $1, houses eight different social service programs for the needy and served nearly 20,000 people last year, double the number from the year before. Its food bank served an average of 650 people a month, up from 300 the previous year, and services by the clothing bank rose in similar fashion, said Malia Meyers, services coordinator.
Catalina Community Services was established just last month with the merger of Catalina Helping Hands and the Catalina Community Resource Center.
"Benefits of combined leadership, volunteer training, fund-raising activities and grant applications, in addition to greater advantages in serving the needy of the area made this decision a unanimous one," according to a statement from its board of directors.
The agency's main building sits on two acres of a 13-acre site owned by the Arizona State Land Department. The center is leasing the site from the state and Catalina Community Services pays the lease fees but the lease runs out in 2006. Officials fear the center may be forced to relocate if the state raises leasing fees from $8,500 to $30,000 a year as expected, or decides to sell the land.
In terms of recreational facilities, Catalina's only park is a less than two-acre parcel with half a basketball court, a couple of swings, an outdoor pool, small playground and picnic area. The recreation center has just bathrooms, a small office, a small recreation room and two other uninsulated rooms.
Efforts to locate sites for a park and community center go back nearly 20 years. Initially the thrust was to seek out separate parcels because there was no site big enough with a building already on it that could be converted to a community center, Johnson said.
Even the 13 acres on which the services center is located was considered a possible site because of its nearness to Coronado K-8 School in the Amphitheater Public Schools district and the possibility of sharing the school's athletic fields, but the property was deemed too small for the purposes intended, Johnson said.
Several years ago Pima County officials "really began getting serious" about helping Catalina when the possibility of turning a former church into a community center arose, Johnson said. Those efforts have continued even after the county and the seller were unable to reach a meeting of the minds on a deal, she said.
Numerous meetings have been held since with village officials, County Supervisors Sharon Bronson and Ann Day, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and other top county administrators confirming Bronson's assessment of Catalina as an under-served community, Johnson said. These meetings are all part of county efforts to establish a five-year plan for Catalina's future, Johnson said.
Although residents elect councilmembers annually, Catalina with its 7,500 residents remains an unincorporated area and the council has no budget.
The council is grateful for the generosity of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, which has the biggest meeting rooms in town, in allowing the council to hold its meetings at the institute, Johnson said.
"The council hasn't any money here," said Johnson. "To just get out the Greater Catalina Village Voice newsletter, we're having problems finding enough money to do that even every other month. Money we get from our annual Heritage Day celebration donations is our only regular source of funds.
"Our area is becoming so built out now that it's becoming ever more difficult to get land even for a park site," Johnson said. "That's why people are so excited about the current possibilities."