TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - There are no newly agreed upon plans for Tortolita Preserve and the surrounding State Trust land, but neighbors and stakeholders are keeping their eyes on potential progress.
Elected leaders in Marana last week discussed breaking the town’s lease with the Arizona State Land Department. It’s a 99-year lease that began in 2000 and the payments jump at least 10 percent every five years.
According to town records, the current annual payment for roughly 2,400 acres near Dove Mountain is nearly $575,000.
The town has several aspects driving its strategy for the area — a viable financial solution for the preserve, developing the nearby Tangerine Road Corridor and protecting areas with significant wildlife habitat.
Mayor Ed Honea said everything is still in discussion. Tortolita Preserve has been a topic of discussion for years. Honea said he didn’t consider the recent public presentation on the preserve to be a sign that change is about to occur.
Several homeowners living nearby said they didn't necessarily believe it. A simple mention of development was enough for Omar Marcella.
“I don’t want houses, I don’t want subdivisions, I don’t want streets, I don’t want building,” he rattled off. “You know what it does when they build a house for a year? The hell that you have to go through to listen to those trucks backing up ... it’s terrible”
Marcella and several other individuals living around Moore and Sandra roads expressed concerns and at least one community meeting is in the works.
The state proposed a plan that would increase the preserve to 2,700 acres, according to meeting minutes. Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, stated the size of the preserve doesn’t matter as much as the land itself.
Mayor Honea shared similar comments, according to the meeting minutes.
Campbell said the coalition does support the town's efforts.
She believes any development that might occur around the preserve would be best handled by the town. She worries the State Land Department might overlook prior projects by local, regional partners to develop areas with minimal impact on the environment. She cited the widening project of Tangerine Road, which included an animal crossing.
She said it's important for Tortolita Preserve to remain intact as it is because it has become sort of an anchor park for other recreation and wildlife areas. She hopes the state understands that.
“All these pieces, they’re all related and they’re part of a bigger picture," Campbell said. "And so, I think they understand now, so now I guess we’ll find out if they care.”
The two state staffers who could best speak to any dealings with Tortolita Preserve were out of the office Friday, according to Arizona State Land Commissioner Lisa Atkins.
She said the agency did not have anyone attend Marana’s recent meeting. The two entities will get together sometime in November, according to the commissioner.