November 22, 2006 - he town of Marana will become the sixth Arizona municipality to span a county dividing line.

Marana plans to annex 440 acres into southern Pinal County to accommodate a planned 1,800-acre development dubbed the Villages at Tortolita. The town council last week gave the developer and town staff the go-ahead for the annexation process.

The Villages of Tortolita eventually will add 6,500 houses, townhomes, apartments and condominiums to Marana. The development will stretch along the east side of Interstate 10 from Marana Road into southern Pinal.

"From an administrative side, I don't see anything that would prevent us from moving into Pinal County," Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said.

The annexation appears cut and dry.

After several formal and informal discussions, Pinal officials have given the town an unofficial OK to the annexation. Marana officials now must draw up a petition and eventually hold a public hearing on the matter. The process takes about 60 days, officials said.

Marana will join Apache Junction, Queen Creek, Winkleman and Hayden as municipalities in Pinal and another county. Peoria and Sedona also straddle county lines.

"It's rather unusual in Arizona," Marana Planning Director Barbara Berlin said.

The annexation and the project it will facilitate will drastically change Marana's population over the course of 15 or 20 years. Almost "by about 50 percent," Berlin said.

Studies have shown that the Marana Police Department will need about 34 more officers just to deal with the Villages at Tortolita.

The proposed development comes from the mind of Michael Zipprich, a graduate of Marana High School and developer based in Phoenix.

Zipprich wanted his project to embody the "live, work and play" motto. The development will contain five "villages," including a spot along the railroad and interstate for industrial businesses. Two villages will contain only homes, and two more will have a mix of homes and commercial development.

The town will build an interchange in the northern part of the development to accommodate an inevitable boom in traffic. Engineers should have the drawing-board plans for the interchange almost completed by the end of the year, officials said.

Marana Councilman Herb Kai declared a conflict of interest and left the dais during a recent discussion of the project. The interchange will dump cars onto some of the councilman's property, he explained.

"We've been talking about this for a while, I'd like to see it move forward," Marana Mayor Ed Honea said.

The town council has not voted yet on the project. Council members last week did ask the developer to investigate its water options.

The developer could simply put sewer lines into the Pima County wastewater system or build a "scalping" plant - a much smaller treatment plant that removes a percentage of water from the county flow as it heads to the county plant.

The developer can build the scalping plant and dress it up so that it looks like a business. It also lacks the odor of a major wastewater site, said lobbyist Michael Racy, who represents the developer.

Racy also lobbies state lawmakers on behalf of the town.

Town council members, particularly Tim Escobedo, wondered about the plans for a huge swath of state land that borders the Villages project to the east. The developer has planning permits for the state land, which in theory could double the size of the Villages at Tortolita.

"We do not anticipate folding that into this project," Racy said of the state land, adding that most of the planning pertains to roads and water.

In addition, archaeology sites on the state land make it near impossible to put a worthwhile number of houses there.

The developer, his representative and town officials all have remarked about the "statement" the Villages at Tortolita will make as a northern entrance into Marana.

Curvilinear streets in the development, a lively color scheme at the new interchange and a Spanish wrought iron symbol at the heart of the development all will say a lot "about who we are," Reuwsaat said.

Zipprich would like to include a "water feature" for residents, but that "could be eliminated, smaller or larger, depending on resources," Racy said.

With or without the lake, the Villages at Tortolita is "a very complicated project" and "a defining project for the community," he said.

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