Oro Valley, neighbors fight for ‘pristine’ desert property

Oro Valley, neighbors fight for ‘pristine’ desert property
Oro Valley property under discussion in public meeting. (Source: Tucson News Now).

ORO VALLEY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - 885 acres of pristine property are caught in the cross-hairs of a land battle, between a growing town and neighbors that want to avoid drastic change.

It's a discussion not going away anytime soon, coming to the forefront now after roughly nine years, when in November 2009, Oro Valley town staff brought forward the possibility of annexation of the state-owned land.

"It's come to the forefront because there's been so much change," said Oro Valley Planning Manager Bayer Vella.

He attributed it to new growth in a town of Oro Valley that is building more and more as roads improve around it.

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The area in question is split on the north and south sides of Tangerine Road, bordered by North Coyote Crossing Trail, West Moore Road, North Thornydale Road and Camino del Norte. It's owned by the state of Arizona, caught between the boundaries of Marana and Oro Valley, in unincorporated Pima County.

There is hope from Vella that his town would take control.

“We have an interest in making sure, at a gateway of ours, that it’s done in a very well-managed manner, and that all of the pieces come together in a way that meets our standards,” he said.

But neighbors are holding those standards higher.

Deb Childers and Miriam Kirsten live north of Tangerine Road, adjacent to the disputed property, and have had two decades each with views of untouched desert landscape and free-roaming wildlife.

Oro Valley property under discussion in public meeting. (Source: Tucson News Now).
Oro Valley property under discussion in public meeting. (Source: Tucson News Now).

They arrived an hour early for Wednesday's town council meeting to make sure they could give the council a piece of their mind.

"It's so contrary to the reasons why we moved there, and I built my home there, over 20 years ago," Kirsten said, concerned about the potential for high-density housing and roads with heavier traffic in their slower, quieter neighborhood.

How it will change is their biggest concern.

“Wildlife consideration. Washes. It just seems like they’re just going to blade everything and put in massive housing,” Childers said.

While no development plans have been announced, as the land is not up for auction yet, the state’s rezoning plan will establish 11 zoning districts on the 885-acre property, with plans for single family residential, commercial space, apartments, condominiums, or townhomes, according to a fact sheet. Buildings could be as high as five stories for apartments.

Concerns have been raised at previous neighborhood meetings regarding environmental resources, density, open space and buffers, drainage, roads and water. The town of Oro Valley said that any future rezoning will involve discussions with the public regarding these topics and others as they arise, according to an FAQ page.

Vella said people in the area should not expect a shovel in the ground for, by his estimate, at least five years. The land has yet to be rezoned for new, large development, and has not been annexed by the town of Oro Valley.

The annexation vote is unlikely to happen until as early as January 2019 when the newly-elected town council and mayor take office.

"Once a property goes through this process, it is generally brought to auction where developers and others may place a bid. A future private developer would then need to apply for additional Town of Oro Valley development review," the FAQ page said. "The State Land Department routinely works with local jurisdictions to negotiate zoning that will maximize its revenue potential. If satisfactory zoning is achieved, State Land will typically market the property directly to developers or other parties so it can be sold 'to the highest and best bidder at a public auction.'"

Childers expects to see changes coming to her neighborhood. She just hopes it's not a change for the worse.

"We understand change is coming, but we want it to be smart planning, where they design within the neighborhood that's there," she said. "Not for something to have massive people."

Oro Valley property under discussion in public meeting. (Source: Tucson News Now).
Oro Valley property under discussion in public meeting. (Source: Tucson News Now).

State officials will hold another neighborhood meeting, facilitated by town staff, on Thursday, Sept. 20, focusing on answering questions and addressing concerns.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. inside the Oro Valley Town Hall council chambers at 11000 North La Canada Drive.

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