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Posts Tagged ‘Open Space’

25th January
written by Land Lawyer

Pima County is being run by, controlled and directed by a very strong environmental lobby that has the singular focus of keeping the environment priority one and jobs, affordable housing and strong families a distant second.

• Covers 9,184 square miles
o 42.1%  is owned by the San Xavier, Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham
o 14.9%  is owned by state of Arizona
o 14.9% is Forest and BLM Land
o 12.1% other public lands
o 17.1% is individually or corporately owned
o Current indebtedness $757 million, if include bonds passed but not sold it goes over $1.07 billion

BOND FUNDS:  Approved by 66% of voters – no budget crisis in 2004.

• All $174.3 million of the 2004 Open Space Bond funds have now been spent.
o $164.3 million for open space and habitat protection and another
o $10 million to protect Davis-Monthan Air Force Base from urban encroachment.

o Purchased over 51,000 acres of private land
o 127,000 acres of leased State Trust Lands
• PAY BACK: with interest that is $226.59 million dollars ($1.30 payback per $1 spent according to letter Ray Carroll to Chuck Huckelberry, December 29, 2009)

• The Conservation Acquisition Commission (CAC) Recommending a new bond for $285 million for more open space
• PAYBACK: with interest that is $370.5 million.

• County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is recommendation $120 million.
• PAYBACK: $156 million

Take a look at Boulder Colorado, the first municipality in the US to embarked on an aggresive no growth policy in the 1960’s.  

In the decade of the 1950s, Boulder’s population grew from 25,000 to 37,000 and during the 1960s it grew by a whopping 29,000 to reach 66,000. Some initial efforts to manage this growth included the “Blue Line,” a citizen-initiated amendment to Boulder’s charter in 1959 that restricted the extension of city water service above an elevation of 5,750 feet. It was later extended by ordinance to sewer service. While a few exceptions have been granted at the ballot box, the effect of this measure was to limit the city from extending water service to properties along the mountain backdrop. Property owners can still develop in the county, but at much lower densities than is typical in the city and only with individual water and septic systems.

Another important growth management program began in 1967, when Boulder became the first city in the United States to pass a tax specifically dedicated to preserve open space. This open space system forms the outer extent of the Boulder Valley, a joint planning area between the city and county.

What are the results after 50 years of restricting land use?

What Are the Pitfalls?
· Boulder’s region encompasses the whole county. Therefore, the city’s surging job growth and limitations on residential growth have had a significant impact on housing demand in adjoining communities. The most striking example is the nearby town of Superior. In 1990 the population of Superior was 255; in 1996 it was 3,377. It has practically no jobs and no sales tax base. This regional imbalance between jobs and housing has created tremendous problems with traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing and school facility needs.
· Getting a hold on sprawl is only half the equation. What happens within the urban service area is the other. In Boulder’s initial planning efforts, there was a clear expression of a preference for infill and redevelopment over sprawl. Since there is no requirement that a certain amount of land be contained within its service area (such as the 20-year required land supply within Oregon’s urban growth boundaries), Boulder does not have to make a trade-off between expansion versus infill and redevelopment. However, it is increasingly difficult to convince specific neighborhoods and the community as a whole that additional density is in their best interests.  not grow.

12th January
written by Land Lawyer

In an ongoing series to spell out exactly how unfair and hard it is to get anything done in our region. I am going dig deep into specific projects and let the reader be the judge. Since the Painted Hills project is back on the Board of Supervisor’s agenda for review this week we thought we’d update the readers on the challenge the project has been. Read yesterday’s Star’s article – HERE.

A little history on Painted Hills. Picture a tract of land, with beautiful saguaros and pristine desert that took 1000’s of years to create (never mind that virtually the entirety of Pima County was once such pristine desert). The property totals 283 acres on Tucson’s west side which would turn in to 260 high end homes. The project  is owned by the TDB Tucson Group who represents the Dallas Police and Firefighters’ Pension System and is being developed by LandBaron a Las Vegas firm. Lots of big dollars and professional firms involved.

Here is were it starts to get interesting. Apparently Pima County identified the land as part of it’s open space purchases from voter approved bond money. At one point there was an offer to purchase the property for $4.25 million. The ultimate sale price came in at $27 million well beyond the County’s budget.

The new land owner went through the motions to turn the property into a CLUSTER DEVELOPMENT which is a way to encourage higher density infill. By becoming a cluster development the developer agreed to the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan requirements and set aside over 200 acres of the total of 283 for open space. The cluster development requires that housing be grouped in clusters on the development instead of checker boarded around the site.  Tough mistake but a mistake none the less. From The Weekly:

Officials from Pima County Development Services say cluster subdivisions allow high-density development on small parcels of land without compromising more open space. Critics use Painted Hills as an example to show that they can also offer a loophole to developers: Cluster subdivisions like Painted Hills effectively create a de facto rezoning with less scrutiny while ignoring the guidelines in the county’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

Let me see if I understand, buyer buys the land,  understands the rules BEFORE buying the land, buyer goes to work on turning their investment into a profit.  Enter the neighbors, a couple of which happen to be none other than Chuck Huckleberry, the Pima County Administrator and Carolyn Campbell from the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. (learn more HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). Probably two of the most powerful environmental leaders in Tucson just happen to be your new neighbors. NIMBY starts taking on a whole new meaning.

Neighbors file suit to block the development. Board of Supervisors take another look at the cluster development problem and fix the loop hole. The Board seeks legal advice about RETROACTIVLY applying the fixed ordinance to the Painted Hills development. 

Silvyn (attorny for LandBaron) warned the county that applying cluster revisions retroactively is “unconstitutional,” because the development has completed its county review process.

What’s a little unconstitutionality among friends.

Lissa Gibbs, left, with Judith Meyer of Tucson Mountains Association:

Lissa Gibbs, left, with Judith Meyer of Tucson Mountains Association:

The Tucson Weekly ran a feature profiling the Friends of Painted Hills discussion.

I’m not taking a position on what, if or how this property does or does not ever get developed.  Leave it as open space, turn it into apartments, section 8 housing you name it I really don’t have a horse in the race so I don’t particularly care.

Here is where I have a major issue; how on earth can a government entity so blatantly disregard private property rights. Unless I missed something we do live in America. Pima County could have cowboyed up and purchased the property but didn’t. The group that did buy the land did their due diligence and knew exactly what they were getting into. The rules were posted and the developer followed them to the ‘T’. In return they’ve  received nothing but grief. I can bet you that the buyer,  Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund are cursing the day they ever set foot in Tucson.

As of the April 17th, 2008 publishing of the Weekly article  the legal opinion on if the retroactive application of the ordinance fix is waiting a ruling.  But why stop there, let’s hit the project with everything we got.  Oct 21, 2008 the Star ran an article about the City of Tucson, denying water hook up to four new developments located outside of Tucson city limits, you guessed it Painted Hills is one of them.

Of the four projects at stake, Painted Hills is the most controversial…..In its legal claim filed Oct. 8 at City Hall, Painted Hills developer TDB Tucson Group said city officials ignored three requests for comment on water service when Pima County officials were reviewing the developer’s application for approval of its subdivision layout. ….
Tucson Water lines already exist along West Speedway and Anklam roads next to the Painted Hills property, and Tucson Water already serves properties on three sides of this parcel, Iurino wrote. The letter quoted a 2007 memo from Assistant City Attorney Chris Avery saying the city cannot arbitrarily refuse to provide water to “infill” development within an existing service area.
“We’re not really protesting anything. All we’re doing is saying this is one of those situations where city has a clear obligation to serve,” said Keri Silvyn, another attorney for the developer.
The city’s stance was welcomed by neighbors who have fought the Painted Hills project.
“I think that the City Council and mayor understand the value of the natural environment, that it is an irreplaceable asset to the character of life and quality of life and are supporting (a) clear mandate voters made by approving bonds to buy that land,” said Lissa Gibbs, a neighboring resident.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero. “It’s not about Painted Hills — it’s about the future and planning of all our development.”

Yeah right!

You may want to read a little about Prop 207 which passed in AZ with a 64.8% margin. It’s about a little thing called Private Property Rights.
We’ve published the techniques used by the environmentalist in a previous post HERE but it’s worth a reprint;

It goes something like this;

1. Elected representatives approve a zoning plan for up zoning on a piece of property. Usually the lots are zoned for 3 acres to 25 acres or restricted to agriculture or churches. The developer often buys the land contingent on these zoning changes. With the vote from the elected officials in hand the transaction is completed.

2. Environmental activists learn about the impact of the development on the SDCP or on the habitat of a pygmy owl or the (insert plant or animal name here – try the Gila Chub, Tucson shovel-nosed snake, the Pima Pinaple Cactus, Southwest Willow Flycatcher or whatever). Their efforts go into full court press.

3. The Enviro’s drum up support from the adjacent neighbors. This plan includes door to door marketing to each neighbor. The goal is to stress the traffic impact of the new development  or just about anything that will stoke the fires of the NIMBY crowd. Petitions are signed, special elections are demanded, court actions are started. The Enviro’s use some or all of these efforts to over rule the original zoning or council approved  vote.

4. The cycle goes on costing the developer untold dollars and more importantly TIME. The Enviro’s are organized, they know the rules and they pull every legal lever they can.   Usually the cost of legal engagement is minimal because the federal species acts are set up force the government to do the heavy lifting. Whether it’s getting federal designation of the Santa Cruz as navigable, or forcing a mining company to go through the federal process to cross a small wash leading to their quarry, the Enviro’s use the laws and our taxpayer funded court system to do their work.

5.  If the petition process isn’t the best fit, the Enviro’s can  pit one jurisdiction against another. You see that in State Land Department wedged between Pima County and Oro Valley, or the developer in Sahuarita that was being played between the county and the Town of Sahaurita. Using political leverage with the help of an  Enviro friendly jurisdiction against one another is common place.  These power player jurisdictions use future annexation of land  as a tool to get municipalities into line.  (Oro Valley and Marana recently adopted the SDCP.)

6. Building in requirements to all developments are another tactic.  Enviro’s have successfully built in requirements for future developments to include;  native plant preservation, rain water harvesting, water shed and rainwater retention basins, 100 year assured water supplies just to name a few. Some of these new development design specifications are useful and important. Many are simply pandering to a special interest and down right ridiculous. All of these added requirements cost money. Guess who ultimately pays the price for these extra steps? The developer? Absolutely not, the cost gets passed directly to you and I the end consumers.

7. When all else fails and probably the Enviro’s greatest ace in the hole is there ability to count votes from elected officials. By picking, supporting, funding and working to get the elected officials in office the Enviro lobby wields tremendous influence with elected officials in towns, cities and the county.


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10th January
written by JHiggins

People have asked me why we reprint Emerine’s articles in their entirety here on our blog. My simple answer is that Steve speaks truth to power. His institutional knowledge of our region makes his opinion’s especially pointed. In our world of 24 hour news cycles and spin induced smoke and mirrors, Steve sums up the issues presented to our community in about a clear as way possible. We are glad he has a platform to preach from, we hope to give him another pulpit with our blog.

This weeks article opinion is addressing the our local governments approach towards funding of our law enforcement agencies. FBI statistics show violent crime and murder decreasing all over the county. Locally we had a record breaking year in homicides. What’s governments core function again?

 While crime rises, local politicos look to spend money elsewhere

Published on Saturday, January 10, 2009

Only Tucson and Pima County would insist on doing more crazy things than a columnist could comment on 52 times in a year.

Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and Democratic Council members Regina Romero, Rodney Glassman, Karin Uhlich, Shirley Scott, Steve Leal and Nina Trasoff use every opportunity they get to profess their undying support for Tucson police.

The men and women in blue need that backing. Tucson just experienced 74 murders in 2008 – more than in any year in history.

But the mayor and council are about to cut three proposed police academy classes to only one, knowing that it won’t produce enough new officers to replace those the department will lose through retirements and resignations.

Yet the mayor and council are also about to approve $7.6 million in bonds to build new solar panels on seven city buildings.

Why? Because they want some “free” federal money and solar power is a cool topic.

The federal government would pay part of the interest on the bonds, leaving the principal and up to 2 percent of the interest for the city to pay.

Think of when your supermarket cashier announced you’d saved more than $20 on your last grocery shopping trip. It may have cost you $80, but look what that plastic store card did for you!

Are you tempted to come back after lunch to double your savings or do you realize you can’t afford to spend another $80?

Solar panels aren’t groceries, but we’re constantly bombarded by messages extolling the virtues of anything “green” or “sustainable.”

Most products using those words cost more, but we’re told that if we use them long enough, we’ll eventually save money.

That’s probably true. But it doesn’t mean a family whose breadwinner has just been laid off should rush to buy a green gizmo before their savings account is exhausted.

Richard Elías, the Democratic chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, and his colleagues (Democrats Ramón Valadez and Sharon Bronson and Republicans Ann Day and Ray Carroll) also have problems.

They must also reduce their current budget and make more cuts or raise taxes in 2009-2010. They’ll probably have to do both.

They’ve told Sheriff Clarence Dupnik they’ll try not to cut his current budget if he agrees to not replace any deputies he loses between now and June 30.

You can see that the supervisors, like the council members, also favor law enforcement and oppose crime. Unless it costs money.

Solar panels aren’t the supervisors’ addiction. They’re hooked on vacant land.

They’ve bought 159,000 acres of ranch land and acquired 127,280 acres of leased land in recent years, but it isn’t enough. Nearly 12 percent of Pima County land is still privately owned. Until last year, it was 13 percent.

The supervisors are about to adopt their fifth draft habitat conservation plan for their Sonoran Desert Conservation project. They’ll submit it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval, then hold a bond election to raise more money for their addiction to dirt.

They plan to spend $324,000 a year from 2009 to 2011 and $568,000 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year to monitor and study their vacant land. The total cost for the next decade would be more than $40 million.

Despite a tight budget, they say they must ensure they own enough land and have enough rules in place to guarantee survival of their favorite critters.

Surely you’ve also been worried about the Huachuca water umbel, the lesser long-nosed bat, the Marana piranha, the southwestern willow flycatcher, the western yellow-billed cuckoo, the Gila chub and Mexican garter snake.

But neither you nor the supervisors have seen all of them or discussed their status with anyone.

I made up the third one on that list because I just might apply for a county grant of a couple of million bucks to keep writing about the Marana piranha.

Frankly, though, I’d really rather have a few more deputy sheriffs.

Contact Steve Emerine or e-mail comments for publication to editor@azbiz.com. This column appears weekly in Inside Tucson Business.

9th January
written by JHiggins

Are you for “open space” laws forbidding building and also for “affordable housing”? Don’t be discouraged by the fact that severe building restrictions have sent housing prices sky-rocketing in community after community.

It may be impossible to have “open space” laws and “affordable housing” at the same time, but what are politicians there for, except to figure out ways to give us the impossible?

Palo Alto, California, where housing prices nearly quadrupled in one decade after severe building restrictions were imposed, also pioneered in laws mandating that each builder agree to sell a certain percentage of any new housing “below market.”

In other words, they combined “open space” laws with “affordable housing.” Who says the impossible cannot be achieved?

Of course this system can work only where just a fraction of the new housing is sold “below market.” Moreover, the market price of housing is raised so far above what it was by building restrictions that even “below market” prices for condominiums in Palo Alto can run to $300,000 or $400,000.

This is hardly “affordable housing” for people on modest incomes. Only 7 percent of Palo Alto’s police, for example, live in Palo Alto– probably older cops who bought their homes long ago.

But none of that matters politically. What matters is that people in Palo Alto can feel good about themselves, by being for both “open space” and “affordable housing.” Happy voters are what get politicians re-elected.

From Thomas Sowell of TownHall.com – Read the full post HERE.

Now the brilliant politicians that run our community demand open space, restrict infill developments in their back yards and still try to find ways to tax housing to set up an ‘affordable housing’ fund for those less fortunate. News flash, more people will need affordable housing based on policies that this community’s elected officials are enacting. What’s the definition of insanity again?

Tucson may charge fee on new home sales

Rob O’Dell

Arizona Daily Star

September 28, 2008

Many new homes in Tucson could come with a 1 percent transfer fee assessed on their sale under a proposal now being pushed by City Council members.

The idea faces strong opposition from real estate and development interests, who are being rocked by one of the worst housing markets in decades due to the mortgage industry collapse. They say the fee would take money from either the home buyer or seller, making housing less affordable.

The new fee, recommended for approval by a council subcommittee on Sept. 15, would apply to any house or condominium unit where a builder has entered into a development agreement with the city.

Money from the fee — equal to $2,000 on a $200,000 home — would go to the city’s housing trust fund, used to pay for such things as home repairs and down-payment assistance for low-income residents.

The fee for the first sale from the developer to the original buyer would be one-half percent, but it would increase to a full 1 percent for any subsequent sale in perpetuity. It would be enforced through a deed restriction attached to the home.

Development agreements are contracts between the city and a developer to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do, beyond a standard rezoning.

The agreements often are used to collaborate on parking, for pre-annexation agreements, or when the city sells public land, City Attorney Mike Rankin said. Developers and the city also make agreements to share the cost of building roads or other infrastructure.

The push for the 1 percent transfer fee by Councilwomen Regina Romero and Karin Uhlich already threatened to derail one development, a proposal to convert apartments to condominiums Downtown.

Romero and Uhlich voted on Sept. 15 in the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee to recommend that the full council consider the fee, which could happen as soon as late October. Councilman Rodney Glassman, the third member of the panel, was absent.

Although the idea still hadn’t been presented to the full council, on Sept. 16 Romero proposed attaching a transfer fee to a development agreement with Ross Rulney for his Flats at Julian Drew project, converting apartments into 53 condominiums in a 91-year-old Downtown building.

Romero said she wanted to talk about a “voluntary” 1 percent transfer fee, but Rulney balked, saying he didn’t want to saddle his potential residents with the fee. With Mayor Bob Walkup absent and the City Council split on what to do, the decision was put off for a week.

Romero subsequently agreed to drop the issue for Rulney’s project, which was approved unanimously by the council last week.

Since then, Uhlich and Romero have dialed back their push for the transfer fee, saying it is one item on a “menu” of options that should be considered to help fund affordable housing in Tucson.

Romero said the idea was proposed by the board of the affordable-housing trust fund after developer Jerry Dixon, of the Gadsden Co., agreed to the 1 percent transfer fee in a recent development agreement for a mixed-use development on the West Side.

“We think it’s a good idea for the council as a whole to hear about it,” Romero said.

Uhlich said she will withhold judgment on the transfer fee until it is considered by the whole council, but she said it merits consideration, especially if the city is giving concessions or incentives in the development agreement.

“It has enough validity to be considered,” Uhlich said. “I support giving it serious consideration as another tool for developers to address affordable housing with their projects.”

The transfer fee will face opposition from the Tucson Association of Realtors, said Colin Zimmerman, its director of public affairs.

“Now is not the time to stick another tax on a market that’s already shaky,” Zimmerman said.

That opinion was backed by Downtown resident Mike Sepich, a counselor who is interested in buying one of the Julian Drew block condos priced in the low to mid-$100,000s. “It’s pretty ironic to have a fee like that on the only affordable housing that’s proposed Downtown,” he said.

Zimmerman said the Realtors already support Proposition 100 on November’s ballot, which would ban a fee or tax on the sale of property by the state, counties, cities and towns.

He acknowledged that the proposition would not forbid Tucson’s new rules because the fee would be part of a deed restriction that city officials contend to be voluntary, although Zimmerman added that it’s not voluntary if you can’t get your project approved without it.

Rankin agreed that the state proposition would not prohibit the city’s transfer fee.

Corky Poster, a housing trust fund board member, said the housing fund needs a dedicated funding source to supplement the money it now gets from condo conversions and other smaller sources.

Since being created in 2006, the city’s housing trust fund has taken in $650,000 and has committed $385,000 for homeowner repairs, down-payment assistance and employer-assisted housing, said Community Services Director Emily Nottingham.

The idea behind the fee was to recapture some of the public money that helps get a project off the ground, Poster said.

“It recognizes the city contribution,” he said. “Developers think it’s a good idea because it doesn’t interfere with their first sale.”

However, Richard Studwell, a local developer who opposes the fee, said Tucson doesn’t have a track record of spending tax money wisely, given its much-criticized Rio Nuevo Downtown redevelopment effort.

“The fund … will have high administrative expenses, and it won’t accomplish anything,” Studwell said. “These are well-meaning people who can’t get it done.”

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