April 12, 2006 - The development plan for the Vistoso Town Center got final approval from the Oro Valley Town Council in an April 5 council meeting that also gave approval to a fare increase for the Coyote Run transportation service.

Located at Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Moore Road, the Vistoso Town Center will encompass 66 acres surrounding the archaeologically significant Honey Bee Village Preserve, a Hohokam Indian settlement occupied between 500 and 1200 A.D.

Surrounding the 13-acre preserved core of the estimated 75-acre Hohokam settlement, the development plan approved unanimously by the council will consist of 145 lots on 52 acres and 14 acres of condominium buildings. There will also be an 85,000-square-foot mall featuring shops, restaurants, and office spaces.

Starting in a week or two and continuing through the summer, a team from Desert Archaeology will use $1 million in Pima County Bond funds to conduct a survey of the development areas to make sure there are no major archaeological discoveries to be found once construction begins in early fall.

"By that time, we'll have found houses, cemeteries and other sites selected for more extensive excavation," said Henry Wallace, senior archeologist and project director for Desert Archaeology.

Although Oro Valley had planned to build a town center on the site since the 1980s, previous construction was halted until the site was either excavated or preserved, neither of which would come cheap. With excavation costing around $1 million an acre, it made more sense to build the town center around a 13-acre core preserve.

When the market value of the village core skyrocketed to $8 million, the $1 million raised by Pima County in bond funds suddenly wasn't enough to buy the land. So Steve Solomon of Canada Vista Homes decided to donate the land so development could go forward.

"On one hand, we have an invaluable historical resource, and on the other hand it is very valuable real estate," Solomon said. "The archeologists are confident there won't be other major archaeological finds."

Oro Valley resident Bill Adler spoke to the council before the vote and urged it to delay approving the development plan until the archaeological survey was complete.

"It seems illogical and unnecessary to approve the development plan without knowing what's underground," Adler said. "It's a short delay, and rather than dealing with it retroactively, we'd know if revisions to the development plan are needed."

Vice Mayor Terry Parish said that since Solomon was willing to cooperate with the town and donate the land for the preserve, he would reciprocally vote to approve Solomon's development plan.

"He's preserving an area he doesn't have to. That's the reason I'm going to approve it," Parish said.

In other action, the town council unanimously approved a fare rate increase for Oro Valley's transportation service for seniors, Coyote Run.

The rate increase will double fares in all three Coyote Run zones. Zone A trips within Oro Valley will increase from $2 to $4. Trips within the Zone B borders Thornydale Road, Oracle Road, Wetmore Road in Tucson, and Golder Ranch Road in Catalina will increase from $4 to $8.

Trips within Zone C borders Camino de Oeste, Wilmont Road, 22nd Street, and the northern Pima County line will increase from $6 to $12.

Oro Valley Transit Administrator Charles Kidwell said that the number of annual Coyote Run trips has increased from 4,500 in 1998 to 17,000 in 2005. Yet the service catering to seniors 62 and older and the disabled has not increased its fares since it was created in 1996.

"We believe the demand for transportation service will only continue to grow. This will help offset our growing costs," Kidwell said.

Coyote Run gets most of its $519,000 annual budget from the state's Local Transportation Assistance Fund and from the town's general fund, and only about 6 percent from fares, Kidwell said. Yet this falls below the national average of 12 to 14 percent, and doubling the fare amounts will meet that standard, Kidwell said.

"We asked our customers if they would support a fare increase, and 81 percent of those surveyed said they would," Kidwell said.

About half of Coyote Run passengers use the service for medical reasons such as doctor visits, and the average trip in 10 miles, Kidwell said.

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