An Oro Valley plan to annex two undeveloped plots of state land has upset some neighboring residents.
When Olga Lucia Parga and her husband bought their property, northwest of Oro Valley, they happily paid top dollar to be next to undeveloped state trust land. Daily, they see javelina, pygmy owls and tons of other birds.
Parga said she and her neighbors have cameras on their patios to capture photos of wildlife.
“We can show you pictures of the amazing biodiversity that we have there,” she said. “It’s not just about the view. If we are thinking about our community, and we’re thinking about the kids—what are they going to get?”
Parga and many of her neighbors attended a neighborhood meeting to discuss the potential annexation last Wednesday, Aug. 2, at an Oro Valley church. The room was full of Marana and unincorporated Pima County residents, with some Oro Valley residents, many voicing their opposition to annexing the state trust land into Oro Valley.
The two lots, an L-shaped, 321-acre plot at the north of West Tangerine Road and North Coyote Crossing Trail, and a 550-acre plot south of Tangerine Road, currently allow only one residence per 3.3 acres. If the property were to be in the town limits of Oro Valley, the town council could rezone the property for higher-density residential and commercial development.
As of yet, no developer or development plans exist. And if there is any commercial development, the only viable place would be on the southeast corner of North Thornydale and West Tangerine roads, across from an existing shopping center, according to Bayer Vella, the town’s planning manager.
Several locals, including Parga, wanted to know if Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan could preserve the land from development, but the county’s plan does not rule out development. The vision is to balance environmental stability with economic vitality, said Sherry Ruther, environmental planning manager at the Pima County Office at Sustainability and Conservation.
She said that Oro Valley has an environmentally sensitive land ordinance, which is in accordance with the conservation plan.
The town’s land ordinance does not block development, but rather restricts placement of structures to protect significant washes, native plants and habitat, Vella said. Oro Valley also restricts development to no more that 50 percent of the land.
Community members at the meeting brought up the fact that their properties are subject to building restrictions that can prohibit a chicken coop in order to protect riparian areas. Vella explained that when the land is annexed into either Pima County, Marana or Oro Valley, it will then be subject to that jurisdiction’s zoning rules.
Talk of development restrictions and environmentally sensitive land ordinances did little to assuage the upset residents, who enjoy living in the wild. Dan Collins, a local conservationist, and his wife were alarmed when they received a yellow postcard announcing the meeting, two weeks prior. From Collins’ property, just south of Moore Road, the only sign of man he can see is a phone line, a half-mile away. He’s worried the annexation would allow development to come within eight feet of his property.
Under the Arizona Constitution, state trust land must be sold to the highest bidder, with the proceeds directed to a trust fund that primarily supports public education. While these parcels are not yet set for auction, Vella says Oro Valley became involved in order to have a say in the outcome.
Whether the land is annexed into Oro Valley will be decided at a later date by the Town Council, and only if the state is on board. If the council votes not to annex, it doesn’t stop development. It just means the land will incorporate into either Marana or Pima County. Marana’s town manager, Gilbert Davidson, didn’t respond to whether Marana has any interest in the land, but only said that Marana supports Oro Valley’s efforts to “annex the land for future development.”
“We will continue to work with Oro Valley to ensure the land integrates well between our two communities, and is compatible with the surrounding residential and commercial development,” he wrote in an email.
Oro Valley is growing fast, and annexing this land would allow the town the space and resources to continue. One benefit to locals could be more state-shared revenue, which could go to improving substandard roads and drainage in the area.
Vella said the state will give the town a development concept in three to four weeks, and then Oro Valley will begin to decide if annexing is financially viable. Since Oro Valley has no property tax, it is possible the cost of providing residential developments with services could outweigh the benefits.
Vella closed the meeting with reassurance that he would bring the concerns he heard at the meeting to the town’s zoning and planning commission for recommendation to the town council.
As of yet, the council has no position, said Council Member Bill Rodman, who attended the meeting. It depends on if and what kind of plan the state department presents to them. The town council hearing on the issue is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 6, but they most likely won’t hold a formal vote on annexation until next summer.
“For me personally, it’s about having a seat at the table when that land, which does abut us, is developed,” Rodman said. “It’ll be developed in Pima County or Marana if we say no. That’s the point of it. We feel if we’re at the table, at least we know what they’re thinking about doing. We can influence it or say, ‘We don’t want to be part of this because it’s not what we would approve.’”
Representatives from the State Land Department will be at the next public meeting, on Monday, August 21, at 6 p.m., at a yet-to-be-named location. For more information, go to OVprojects.com, under the project name: Tangerine-State Land General Plan Amendment.