Oro Valley officials on Monday, Aug. 25, disclosed changes to a planned annexation of 14 square miles north of town.

With the help of Northern Arizona University professor Paul Beier and Pima County Development Services, town zoning officials modified the land use map for the proposed annexation area.

The changes reflect wildlife linkages that Beier identified in a recent Arizona Game and Fish Department study.

“We heard a lot from the community about wildlife linkages,” Oro Valley Planning and Zoning Director Sarah More said.

Animals use the linkages like pathways between mountain ranges. In Arroyo Grande, the pathway connects the Santa Catalina with the Tortolita mountains.

Town staffers also took notice of residents’ calls for a better definition of open space than identified in the Arizona State Land Department’s Arroyo Grande plan.

“It’s certainly a big improvement,” Carolyn Campbell said.

She heads the conservation group Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, which helped voice the call for changes to the state and town annexation plan.

Campbell also liked the changes made regarding open space.

The original plan called areas with as many as four houses per acre open space.

The revision includes 68 percent of the property free from development.

Much of the open space identified in the revision coincides with Beier’s wildlife linkage study.

The plan now shows a linkage running from Oracle Road west to the Tortolita Mountains.

Residents, too, found the changes mostly a positive step, but some want additional alterations.

“They did a great job of isolating Sun City,” Alyson Roeder said at Monday’s open house.

Her Honey Bee Ridge home sits at the northernmost point of Oro Valley, just steps away from the start of Arroyo Grande.

Roeder would like to see the open space identified as a wildlife linkage expanded northward to create a larger buffer between existing and proposed development.

Still, Roeder found the changes an improvement because the original plan left no pathway for animals and no buffer between her house and Arroyo Grande.

The state owns Arroyo Grande and millions of acres throughout the state.

The federal government ceded it to Arizona at the time of statehood to benefit state schools through sales and leasing agreements.

The land department has since been tasked with management of the original 12 million acres. More than 9 million acres still remain under state control.

Oro Valley began official talks with the state for the Arroyo Grande parcel earlier this year.

But some observers found the state’s proposed land use designations controversial.

The absence of wildlife linkages was a main point of contention.

Some environmental groups petitioned the town and state land department to revisit the plan to include linkages.

A Planning and Zoning Commission hearing is planned for Thursday, Aug. 28, at 6 p.m. at Casas Church, 10801 N. La Cholla Blvd.

The commission could vote to recommend the changes.

Even if commissioners don’t endorse the plan, the town council plans a study session on the issue Oct. 22, and could vote to accept the plan Nov. 19.

In the meantime, the State Land Commissioner has to give final approval to the changes before the annexation can go forward.

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