The town of Oro Valley last week denied a demolition application to remove the Steam Pump Ranch house, pump building and other structures from the historic 1870s site and ordered the property owners to act immediately to protect the public from the unsafe conditions associated with the buildings.
"We've denied the demolition permit," Town Attorney Mark Langlitz said. "As part of a rezoning, if and when they wanted to come forward with approval for a development plan, they have to include a cultural resources mitigation plan."
In his April 14 application for demolition, developer Mike Naifeh characterized the structures as an "attractive nuisance" with potential for public safety and liability problems.
In a response sent April 21, Langlitz ordered Naifeh and owner John Lieber "to take immediate temporary remedial action to safeguard and protect the public from the unsafe condition of the buildings" within 24 hours.
By April 23, the structures remained unfenced.
"We would like to get this worked out," Langlitz said. "Certainly the dilapidated Steam Pump building has to be fenced. If they don't do it, we will go to court and get a warrant and put a fence around it and then look at possible criminal charges."
Steam Pump Ranch, the "historic heart of Oro Valley," is the town's last remaining historic site. On a Feb. 2 tour of the property for Oro Valley's Planning and Zoning Commission, owner John Lieber said that much of the rural character of the area has already been destroyed by commercial development.
"When I was growing up, there were maybe 100 cars a day going by along Oracle," he said. "It's getting to the point that it's so congested, they look right down on my patio."
Lieber, who was born and raised in the original ranch house built by George Pusch, is the grandson of Tucson's Pioneer Hotel manager John Proctor, who purchased the property in the 1930s and provided it with chickens and eggs from the ranch.
The 15-acre historic property at Hanley Boulevard and Oracle Road is sandwiched between a new Big O Tire and Home Depot to the south and an undeveloped adjacent parcel owned by Tucson developer Don Diamond to the north.
Naifeh worked with town staff for more than a year, changing his original concept from a featureless strip mall to a village square model, with amenities like restaurants offering outdoor dining, galleries, shops and public plazas in a lushly vegetated setting.
In January, Pima County got into the act, allocating $2 million to preserve the site as part of its upcoming bond election May 18.
The plan suddenly reverted back to a strip mall.
On Feb. 3, Oro Valley's Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial.
At a rezoning hearing last month before the town council, Naifeh asked for and was granted a continuance until May 19, the day after the county bond election.