Feb. 2, 2005 - Oro Valley now has possession of 24 acres of land in Rancho Vistoso it has been trying to acquire for a variety of town uses, and town officials said they hope to begin preliminary work on the site soon.

The Oro Valley Town Council unanimously approved a resolution Sept. 15 to acquire, either through purchase or condemnation, land needed to move the public works yard and other town facilities to a bigger location.

Town staff said the town had outgrown its current location at 680 W. Calle Concordia, and the town had been sued by neighbors of the yard saying business there was too loud and dirty to be in a residential neighborhood.

While the neighbors lost their suit in September, in November, the town initiated condemnation proceedings to relocate the facilities.

After three years of looking, the 24-acre site chosen lies northeast of Ventana Medical Systems in Rancho Vistoso Neighborhood 3, off of east Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, and was under development by Monterey Homes.

While the case still is being heard, an order for the town to be granted immediate possession of the parcel was filed by Judge John F. Kelly in Pima County Superior Court Jan. 24, at the town's request.

In order to get possession, the town had to post a bond for $3.8 million, the value of the property as determined by an appraisal commissioned by the town in October by Sanders K. Solot and Associates, Inc. The funds for the bond were taken from the town's general fund, the water utility and the highway fund, according to Public Information Officer Bob Kovitz.

The town may have to pay more for the site, depending on the value of the property, as determined by Kelly.

Acting Town Attorney Tobin Sidles said the move is important because, as the case makes its way through the court process, the land may continue to gain value, meaning that by the time any decision is reached about the value of the property, it could be worth much more than it was in the beginning.

"This is good for us," Sidles said of the immediate possession order.

Town Engineer Bill Jansen said the town hopes to begin securing the site soon, fencing it in and filling open utility trenches. He said he doubts the town will see any construction on the site any time soon, as the town intends to master plan its facilties, likely with the help of a consultant who specializes in that kind of planning.

The town intends to move the public works yard from the Calle Concordia site, as well as locating the water utility there. A police training center and an evidence storage area also will be built on the site.

The town intends to keep the Parks and Recreation Department at the current site, at 680 W. Calle Concordia. When the town begins to plan the new site, Jansen said, one of the first orders of business will be to define all the activities that should be located at this central site, which could include additional facilities.

"We don't need to plan for just our needs today, we need to plan for the Oro Valley of 2025," Jansen said. "Planning for yesterday just doesn't work."

While it's too soon to say what the facilities will look like, Jansen said the town wants to build "modern looking" functional facilities that can eventually be used by the whole community.

"Whatever the town builds, it has to be compatible with what is surrounding it," he said, adding that the town intends to hold periodic open houses to get the public's input throughout the process.

The town did not consider immediate possession when the council first approved moving forward with the condemnation process. Sidles said he could not comment on when the decision was made to ask for possession, as it was discussed in executive session.

He said there have been no further developments in the condemnation case, and it is no closer to being decided, however, this immediate possession may help to speed the process along.

Kimberley Ring, a spokesperson for Monterey Homes, said the company is aware that the town is taking immediate possession of the property and said the company had already stopped work on the parcel.

Monterey Homes has been disputing the amount the town is willing to pay to acquire the land. While not giving a figure of his own, Jeff Grobstein, president of the company, has said the company spent money grading the property and installing a sewer system to prepare the area for a large housing development overlooking the Santa Catalinas, both of which increase its value.

The property is next door to Ventana Medical Systems, and plant manager Gregg Forszt said the company supports acquisition of the parcel for use as town facilities.

"We feel it's a much more appropriate use than putting homes there," he said, adding that the company has been working with the town and Monterey Homes representatives to come up with a solution.

"We've been working with the town and Monterey Homes for months now. We were instrumental in brokering a deal between them and Monterey Homes," he said.

He said the company had some concerns about having a housing development near the facilities, for several reasons, including the risk of industrial espionage.

Ventana filed a letter with the Arizona Department of Real Estate in July asking that a public report be filed for potential residents of the Monterey Homes development, stating that Ventana is a medical research facility, that works with biohazardous medical materials and waste products, uses highly flammable materials and intends to expand its operation in the future to include a 24 hours a day, seven days a week manufacturing, shipping and receiving facility. In the letter, also sent to Grobstein and Town Manager Chuck Sweet, Ventana President Robert Green stated that this information would be important to share with prospective home buyers because the conditions might have "an adverse affect on the purchaser's health and well-being."

Representatives from Monterey Homes said they made inquiries to the company in November 2003, while the project was in the final plat process, but did not receive this information until eight months later, when work had already begun on the site.

As the town works its way through the facilities project planning process, Forszt said Ventana plans to be a part of the public comment process and work with the town "as any neighbor would."

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