Council OK's bond fund move for land
Photos courtesy of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, This rendering shows an animal crossing that would bridge a section of Oracle Road north of Oro Valley. Town council members have approved transfer of Pima County bond funds that would allow purchase of open space adjacent to the proposed wildlife crossing.

Despite some initial concerns, the Oro Valley Town Council on Sept. 16 unanimously approved a transfer of Pima County bond funds to purchase a pair of properties on North Oracle Road.

Voters approved the funds, $2.5 million, in 2004 as part of the county bond election to purchase land for open-space protection near Oracle and Tangerine roads.

"I just have some concerns that if the property is sold off, they will destroy what's there," said Councilman Al Kunisch. He is concerned about historic and environmental assets found within the property the town had intended to buy.

The original property, more than 100 acres at Kelly Ranch on the east side of Oracle Road, was estimated to cost about $5 million. County and town officials had anticipated getting the remaining $2.5 million to complete the purchase from the Arizona State Parks Department. But recent budget restrictions at the State Capitol have made the possibility of getting money from the parks department unlikely. In addition, the owners of Kelly Ranch had previously indicated to town leaders that $5 million was below their anticipated selling price by half.

If the money were transferred to purchase the two properties further north on Oracle, one on either side of the road, from Treehouse Realty Group, LLC, the land would stand next to a proposed land bridge intended to facilitate animal crossings. Wildlife crossings are proposed as a part of the Regional Transportation Authority, a 20-year multi-billion dollar roadway improvement project that county voters approved in 2006.

The fund transfer that Oro Valley leaders approved last week would now need to meet with the approval of the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee and later the county board of supervisors.

If the proposal meets those approvals, the county would then conduct an appraisal of the parcels and make an offer to buy. The two properties total roughly 13 acres. Preliminary estimate put their combined value at $1.1 million.

"These acquisitions would strengthen the viability of the Arroyo Grande project," said Carolyn Campbell, who heads the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection and sits on the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee.

Arroyo Grande is a 14-square-mile section of Arizona State Land Department property directly north of Oro Valley that the town has been in talks with the state for a possible annexation.

One of the proposals regarding Arroyo Grande has been the inclusion of a sizable section along its southern edge to remain free of development. Biologists have identified the section as a frequently traveled animal crossing between the Santa Catalina and Tortolita mountain ranges.

A land bridge or other wildlife crossing would provide animals a passage between the mountains safe from vehicles, while the desired land purchases would extend the open space adjacent to the structure when built.

Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis requested that council members include in their approval of the fund transfer a request that Pima County not oppose a town annexation of 13 acres intended for purchase. That request was ultimately overturned by amendment.

The motion to request the fund transfer passed without exception.

Police substation approved

The council also accepted a revised police substation proposal.

The substation, to be located in the Oro Valley Marketplace, includes a scaled-back design from plans originally proposed.

The facility would serve as a station for the police's bicycle and some of the motorcycle units. In addition to workstations, the substation would have lockers, a holding cell, and restroom and shower facilities.

A portion of the building that had been designed as a briefing room for an emergency operations center would be left a shell. The emergency operations center could be built at a later date.

The council approved putting the scaled-back project out for contractor bids, with council members Bill Garner, Barry Gillaspie and Salette Latas voting against the plan.

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