April 26, 2006 - Over the years, aggressive annexation has increased the once-quaint 11 square miles of Marana to a sprawling town more than 10 times its original size.

A planned 7,000-home development soon will require the town of Marana to annex an additional 375 acres into Pinal County, an idea that sits well with both jurisdictions.

Developer Mike Zipprich has submitted a second round of plans for The Villages at Tortolita, an 1,800-acre development that will include thousands of houses, retail shops and even industrial business opportunities.

The plans call for five distinct villages just east of Interstate 10, stretching north from Grier Road into southern Pinal County. Three of the villages - 1,071 acres - will include only houses.

A community portal will include shopping arcades, recreational facilities and a 20-acre community park. The developer seeks to have a fifth, smaller village of 60 acres zoned industrial.

The town of Marana planning staff received Zipprich's plans two weeks ago and has barely begun the review process, which could take between 12 and 18 months, Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat estimated.

"We're just out of the gates on this," he said. "We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

The town manager skimmed the Zipprich plans the weekend after their submittal, just "looking for any major red flags." He found none.

"This is a really good and serious proposal," Reuwsaat proclaimed. "One of the better specific plans we've seen."

Zipprich put his idea into action in 2003, when he purchased most of the land in the proposed development. The developer drew up initial plans last March and submitted a rougher set of plans, town officials said.

He went back to the drawing board, made a few changes and came up with The Villages at Tortolita, originally referred to as The Villages at Tortolita Mountain. Most simply call it "the Zipprich project."

The proposed development area is situated seven miles west of Tortolita Mountain Park and seven miles north of Saguaro National Park.

The northernmost part of the project spills over the Pinal County line in the form of a 349-acre block, the proposed site of the one of the strictly residential villages.

Marana will annex the property into town limits, Reuwsaat confirmed.

"It's easier to control," he said. "Do we want (the development) to be two parts or one? It just makes sense."

Town and Pinal County officials have had several meetings to discuss the impending annexation. The county has offered no objections, leaving the decision solely up to the town, Assistant County Administrator Ken Buchanan said.

"It's certainly not uncommon," Buchanan said of a town creeping into more than one county. He mentioned the city of Apache Junction, which straddles the Pinal and Maricopa county lines.

A 1976 graduate of Marana High School, Zipprich wanted to create something original for the town, he said. He sketched his plans with a "Live, Work and Play" theme in mind.

The community will include several neighborhood parks. The portal will offer a recreation center, ball fields, basketball and volleyball courts, picnic areas and a swimming pool, according to plans.

Each village will feature a distinct "Sonoran Desert-inspired" architecture, Zipprich explained. "But not so blatantly different they don't blend into one another."

Zipprich designed the community to offer both an urban and suburban lifestyle, he said. Houses and porches will be built closer to the street to encourage interaction among neighbors, he added.

The planned Tortolita Boulevard will traverse the entire development, running parallel with Interstate 10. A series of trails will connect residents to all five villages.

"We want people to meander throughout the community with vehicle or no vehicle," Zipprich said. "I think it's a great compliment to Marana."

The town will need another interchange just north of Hardin Road to accommodate the throngs of people living in Zipprich's development and other planned projects nearby. The proposed Tortolita Road interchange will eventually connect to Luckett Road and then to Moore Road, via a loop. The project could cost about $35 million, officials estimate.

Zipprich has undertaken feasibility studies. The road constructions might require an impact fee, Reuwsaat suggested.

"We've been working with (Marana) on the Tortolita interchange and how roads on both sides of it will connect," Buchanan said.

Southern Pinal County could benefit from the new interchange and probably even future, not-yet-planned interchanges, he added.

"From San Manuel to Red Rock, we have 69,000 lots planned."

Two more planned developments lie just west and south of Zipprich's project.

The town continues to review a preliminary plat for Sanders Grove, an 840-acre residential subdivision located in a triangle framed by Wentz Road, Marana Road and the interstate. Just south of the Zipprich project, a developer has planned more houses for San Lucas, a site which could see home sales yet this year. The town council last month approved the first of 849 lots for San Lucas.

After staff reviews the plans, the Zipprich project will go to the planning and zoning commission before it reaches the town council for approval. The town hopes to complete the annexation process about the time the project receives its final approval, Reuwsaat said.

When that happens, the developer will tear down an old ranch house on the property, which consists mostly of abandoned farm land.

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