The city of Tucson will be asking the Amphitheater School District to pay in land rather than money for a piece of property both the city and the district are claiming to own.
In a City Council meeting May 6, council members voted to allow the city to go into negotiations regarding Amphithe-ater High School's land lab, 450 E. Wetmore Road, an award-winning facility used to teach students about farming and agriculture.
The city and the district have been at odds over the property for the past year and a half, with the city claiming that it owns three rights-of-way on the property the district has built over.
The district has maintained that the rights-of-way were abandoned by the county when the district acquired the county-owned land in 1963. The city annexed the property in 1981.
Officials in the city's transportation department discovered the city still owned the land in June 2000 after a request was made by the county wastewater management department to put chemicals into a sewer located in one of the rights-of-way.
"It was real surprising to know that we owned land in the middle of Amphi," said Vice Mayor Carol West.
Since then, the relationship between the city and the district has been tense, with both sides claiming rightful ownership of the property, and the city requesting Amphi to pay for the land. District officials estimate the land is worth about $400,000.
According to Amphi's legal department, the district has found evidence from past Pima County Board of Supervisors meetings that the supervisors did intend to declare the rights-of-way as abandoned, but no evidence exists that the abandonment actually took place.
At the council meeting, however, members voted to allow the city and the district to enter into an intergovernmental agreement, which would allow the district to pay the city with land rather than with money that would have come out of the district's maintenance and operations budget, which is used for everything from school supplies to employee salaries.
"There was no other way to do it," said council member Kathleen Dunbar, whose ward encompasses part of the Amphi district, including the property where the rights-of-way are located.
"This is a very fair way to do it," she said.
Dunbar said, based on the agreement, that the city can, in the future, negotiate with the district for land the district owns, but the district doesn't have to give up the land the city requests. It must eventually trade for land of equal value, however, in a time period that will be negotiated with the district.
At this point, the district has not been approached by the city to begin negotiations, so the district has not taken a stance on what its position will be, said Connie McFarland, assistant to Todd Jaeger, Amphi's legal counsel. Jaeger could not be reached for comment due to illness.
Amphi Governing Board Vice President Mary Schuh, however, said she thought the agreement was a fair alternative to having to pay the city several thousand dollars.
"We were willing to pay one dollar for it since they couldn't just give it to us," Schuh said.
Tobin Rosen, an assistant city attorney, said he was surprised the district didn't agree to pay for the property since the district made the city pay for a piece of property it wanted to acquire less than a year ago.
According to city records, the city purchased district land on Wetmore Road for about $90,000 several months ago, but after the district was told it had to pay for the rights-of-ways.
"The district charged us and didn't blink an eye," Rosen said. "Why does anyone say they own their property? Because they paid for it."
West said that purchase was a "bone of contention" during the process of deciding what kind of agreement to make with the district, but that she did not want the district to have to write a "big check" for the property.
Schuh said she thought the idea of the city asking the district to pay for the land was "absolutely disgraceful."
"I couldn't understand why they would want us to take money away from the students," she said.
Schuh also speculated that the real reason why the city was asking the district to pay for the land is because it is surrounded by commercial development. If part of the lab was torn down, Schuh said the lab would probably have to move.
West said that belief is "completely untrue."
"Why would we want to do that? It's in the middle of a school," she said. "I find that belief to be really disturbing."