When science influences policy - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

When science influences policy

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Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 11:00 pm

Any annexation, zoning and development of the Arroyo Grande state land parcel remains far in the future.

But the process has taken a positive step forward with proposed changes to land use designations revealed by Oro Valley planners last week. The new document contains real protection for significant open space, and accommodates nearly the same number of housing units as originally proposed.

Remember when low-density residential development — representing much of the “open space” protected on Arroyo Grande — was proposed for the 14-square-mile parcel north of Oro Valley? That wasn’t real “open space,” in the sense of being relatively untouched.

Now, 5,545 acres — more than half the total ground — would be preserved as “natural open space,” without development.

That’s not just a boon to wildlife, which would have a protected corridor between the Tortolita and Santa Catalina mountains. That’s of value to residents who like to look out the kitchen window and see unfettered horizons and desert. And it’s a further boost to adjacent homeowners. Their oceanfront location is being protected. That makes their properties more valuable. That encourages homebuilders to create higher-end properties.

Originally, Arroyo Grande would have had 15,964 homes and more than 38,000 likely residents. That figure has been reduced slightly, to 15,923 homes. More significantly, the majority of those housing units are proposed for master-planned communities, concentrating the impact, and providing economies of scale for utilities, public infrastructure and builders alike.

An Oro Valley technical advisory committee has received considerable input, made many revisions, and talked at length all the way through. Northern Arizona University professor Paul Beier was pleased his work on wildlife paths was given weight. Science is influencing public policy. If only it were to happen more often.

These are land use designation proposals. A pre-annexation agreement between the Town of Oro Valley and the Arizona State Land Department is not yet in place. Development of zoning detail is ahead for Arroyo Grande. And it’s still a huge expansion.

The question of whether local governments can purchase state lands for open space in a noncompetitive environment is without answer. Voters might have made that decision in November. The state lands initiative contained language on how local government could acquire lands without going through the bidding process. Alas, that proposal won’t be on the ballot, and it’s a real shame.

Still, this land use designation revision is an excellent one, and those who crafted it have done well.

Common sense may be finding further governmental foothold in Marana, where a floodplain map of the lower Tortolita Fan recognizes the water-diverting capacity of manmade structures like Interstate 10, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Arizona Project canal.

The latest floodplain map for Federal Emergency Management Agency consumption reduces the floodplain from 19 square miles to three square miles.

In its original form, nearly 2,000 structures were in the identified floodplain, creating real worry about flood insurance costs. In the revised version, the number of structures is down to 250.

Marana is not New Orleans. While the threat of flood in lower Marana does exist, it’s not looming with every hurricane season. All that said, railroad beds, irrigation canals and interstate highways are not failure-proof against cataclysmic flood. Should they be? It’d cost money.

This latest floodplain map is reasonable, and FEMA should give it good review.

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