Battle over Barnum Hill, Reid Park duck pond to be discussed by Mayor and Council Tuesday

Updated: Mar. 8, 2021 at 10:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Tucson City Council will set aside time in their study session Tuesday to discuss the controversy surrounding the Reid Park Zoo expansion.

This comes after Mayor Regina Romero called for the project to be paused on March 3rd, 2021.

Since then, the Reid Park Zoological Society (RPZS) and Save the Heart of Reid Park have come forward with examples and evidence to back up their sides of the story.

“I would have liked clearer language around what was at stake, what was going to happen,” said Save the Heart of Reid Park co-chair Manon Getsi.

Getsi said Prop 203 (voted and approved in 2017) that is funding the expansion, did not mention taking the 3.5 acres of Reid Park.

“We should be told that specifically and that didn’t happen not even close,” said Getsi.

The purpose of Prop 202 and 203 were to advance “a well-developed, bold master plan with larger, improved habitats: to bring new species to Tucson for visitors to learn about, and be amazed by. This includes a pygmy hippo habitat, a new larger tiger habitat, and a tropical discovery center featuring reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and fish.”

According to a memo from City Manager Michael Ortega and City Attorney Michael Rankin, the Reid Park Zoological Society developed a Zoo Master Pan in 2014, well in advance of the voters’ consideration of Propositions 202 and 203. This Master Plan anticipated and planned for various improvements to the Zoo, including but not limited to the addition of a pygmy hippo habitat, and an expansion of the Zoo into Gene C. Reid Park west of the Zoo and into the area of Barnum Hill. The purpose of the expansion was for a relocated and larger Asia exhibit, including a new and larger tiger habitat, with a breeding facility for these critically endangered animals.

Following the voters’ approval of Propositions 202 and 203 in November 2017, RPZS carried out an extensive public review and comment process to consider and finalize revisions to the 2014 Zoo Master Plan to carry out the voters’ will.

This effort is described here:

This public outreach and input process included the following community presentations and communications:

• April 24, 2018 – Reid Park Zoo Membership meeting

• July 31, 2018 – Presentation at Reid Park Zoo (open to the public)

• Aug. 2, 2018 - Presentation at Reid Park Zoo (open to the public)

• Aug. 8, 2018 - Presentation at Reid Park Zoo (open to the public)

• Sept. 8, 2018 - Presentation at Reid Park Zoo (open to the public)

• Sept. 12, 2018 - Presentation at Reid Park Zoo (open to the public)

• Sept. 15, 2018 - Presentation at Reid Park Zoo (open to the public)

• Oct. 3, 2018 - Presentation at Reid Park Zoo (open to the public)

According to the memo, the product of that public process was the finalization of the Reid Park Zoo Master Plan 2018; and the approval of two agreements under which the City of Tucson approved management of the Zoo by RPZS, all for the purpose of carrying out the voters’ will as provided in Propositions 202 and 203.

Getsi and other members have now signed around 350 declarations stating that had they known about the expansion, they would have voted no on Prop 203.

So I took their concerns to RPZS CEO Nancy Kluge asking her if she thinks Prop 203 had been clear enough.

“Those propositions were really written to be flexible to the zoos needs,” answered Kluge. “And then, especially with the city of Tucson needing to approve the detailed master plan before it’s put into effect and not knowing what that approval would look like in the end, they’re written to be flexible.”

More meetings continued in 2018 going over the Pathway to Asia expansion. Kluge says there were attendees against it that shows they were transparent.

They provided me with their outreach regarding the meeting including social media posts, media coverage, etc. I showed Getsi who said it wasn’t enough.

“I didn’t get comment card. I mean if they put in a HAWK light, I get a note in my mailbox. If there’s a F-35 meeting I get a note in my mailbox. There was nothing,” said Getsi.

Getsi also says there are only 34 comment cards to show from the public meetings which furthers her point of not enough outreach.

Meanwhile RPZS said the followed all the steps the city asked. Both parties have presented evidence and now mayor and council will have to decide.

Councilmember Steve Kozachik says they are looking at adding amenities to underutilized areas of the park that are close to the expansion. It’s conceptual at this point, but it hopes to add green space to ease some of the concern felt in the community.

Public outreach will of course be done on that if it does come to fruition.

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