September 14, 2005 - A regional park is scheduled to be built in Catalina by the summer of 2007.
And while plans for the park got off to a rocky start, with opposition from some community members, after revising the most controversial part of the plan the county seems to have gained the majority's support for the project.
The Catalina Regional Park is a site running along the Cañada del Oro Wash in the community of Catalina.
The park is part of the 2004 Pima County Bond program, which identified many possible features for the area, including baseball and soccer fields, playgrounds, basketball courts, volleyball, picnic facilities, ramadas, restrooms, landscaping, development of natural habitat areas, and corresponding trails and parking. Nearly $2 million was set aside for the project.
When the 2003 Aspen Fire burned in the Santa Catalina Mountains, damaging a large portion of the north side of the mountain range, it cleared the way for what would be major flooding along the Cañada del Oro Wash in Catalina.
After the waters subsided, Pima County provided relief to affected residents by buying many of the damaged properties and relocating the owners. About 180 acres of property was bought along about two miles of the wash.
The project of building a park there, instead of rebuilding homes, is a joint effort of the Pima County Department of Transportation and the county's Flood Control District and is motivated by a desire to prevent more loss from future flooding of the area.
When plans for the park first were unveiled to the community, they met with some opposition, primarily from those who did not want an active park, with athletic fields, built in the quiet rural community. Many who objected to the fields said such a use was inappropriate in a wash or in the other riparian areas that are found throughout the park site.
Pima County Supervisor Ann Day said the county listened to what the residents wanted for their park and changed the plans to reflect those wishes, even though the county could have moved forward with the project without such thorough public outreach.
"We got your surveys and looked at all of them and revised the plans," she told an audience of more than 100 people who attended the final public open house, held Sept. 7, scheduled to provide residents with an opportunity to voice both concerns and praise about the park plans.
John Spiker, the park project manager, said the county received about 100 completed surveys, which were made available to residents both online and through distribution of paper copies. The surveys asked residents to provide their opinions on various aspects of the park plans.
"The responses were very positive and very useful," he said.
The comment most represented in the surveys was that the people of Catalina want the future park to be "rural recreational" and not chock-full of athletic fields and parking lots.
"That was really hammered into our heads," Spiker said.
Because people were so opposed to the athletic fields, the fields were replaced with an open grassy area in the version of the plan presented at the final open house.
The field will serve various functions, from outdoor classroom to open playground to picnic area. Spiker said the county hopes to keep recreation out of the more environmentally sensitive areas of the park by providing this multiuse space.
He said that, even though survey respondents were not vehemently opposed to athletic fields, majority ruled with the final decision made to take the fields out of the plans.
The rest of the plan has stayed the same as what was first proposed by the county, Striker said.
The county intends to build a trail system that connects to other regional trails both into and out of the park and also plans to restore many of the areas along the wash that were destroyed by flooding. Wildlife viewing and birding areas will be designated and an equestrian center and various environmental education areas will be constructed.
Even though the meeting was the last scheduled public outreach, county representatives told the people present at the Sept. 7 meeting that the plans were not finalized and that any concerns that were brought up at the meeting would be considered before the plans were completed.
Questions about the security of the park and the measures that will be taken to keep Catalina residents safe were asked by several meeting attendees. Spiker said the county would take these comments into consideration before moving forward with the plan.
The Sept. 7 meeting was the final one for gathering public comment, but there will be more hearings as the county moves forward with the construction of the park.
Of the many residents who attended the final open house, the majority supported the revised plans.
Catalina resident Bev Showalter thanked the county officials who were on hand at the meeting for listening to the residents of Catalina who provided feedback regarding the park plans.
"I think this is a wonderful response to our request," she said of the plans that were presented at the meeting. "We've come a long way and I want to thank you all very much."
Mark Kendall, a Greater Catalina Village Council member, said he criticized the plan in the past but, after seeing the changes on Sept. 7, he said it has been changed to a plan he supports.
"The consensus has been in the past that Pima County does not listen to Catalina. Well, obviously you have listened," he said.
Some residents, however said they were disappointed that the sports fields were taken out of the plans and said those fields are needed in Catalina.
Resident Diane Holland asked if the county had considered other locations for fields. She also wanted to know if the county had looked at other locations for relocating the community center in Catalina. A community center was initially proposed for construction on the regional park site but also was taken out of the plans.
Day said the county is looking at alternate locations, both for fields and for the community center, and realizes that both are important to the community.
"We know there is a huge need for more athletic fields and more parks, but this just isn't the place for it," he said.
Sally Simmons has young children who live in Catalina, and she objects to the removal of the ball fields from the park plan. She said she and her family go to Oro Valley, where the parks are overcrowded, to use the soccer fields because there is no place to play in her community.
She said she thinks it is unfortunate that children and teenagers were not given a voice in the public outreach process because she believes if they had been, there would have been a stronger vote in favor of the fields.
"One of the reasons you are having all the trouble with teenagers up here is that there is nothing for them to do," she said, referencing earlier comments from the meeting about teenagers who are hanging out in the CDO wash.
She called it "selfish" of other community members to say that because they would not use athletic fields no one in the community should be able to use the fields.
"There's nothing nonrural about athletic fields," she said, over hisses and boos from the audience.
Several other residents addressed concerns about traffic increasing in the area as people drive to the park on the rural roads that now surround the park site.
Greater Catalina Councilman Wes Stolsek said he also is concerned about the speed limit in the area, because vehicles are now permitted to travel up to 45 mph on some of the roads, and he believes that the speed limit should be lowered in an area surrounding a park.
County representatives explained that lowering the speed limit would require extensive traffic studies to determine whether it is appropriate to mandate that vehicles travel at a reduced speed. Striker said that in the planning process the roads around the park, as well as the access to the park, will be studied in detail and that plans for traffic control around the area have not yet been outlined.
Spiker said the next step in the planning process will be to find a designer for the park. The county will then need to hire a contractor and is estimating construction of the park to take about nine months. It is projecting a grand opening of May 2007.