It has been interesting to watch the transition in the State Land Department, whose long-standing mission has been "to enhance value and optimize economic return" for the State Land Trust. In practice, the Department has simply sold trust land to the highest bidder at public auction, which historically have been developers. Despite ongoing attempts at State Land Trust reform through the initiative process, it seems that the State Land Department has slowly begun to internalize changes as to how state trust lands are to be managed.
The Town of Oro Valley’s proposed annexation of nearly 9,000 acres of State Trust Land known as "Arroyo Grande" is a case in point. On November 19, 2008,the Town of Oro Valley voted 6-1 to adopt a general plan amendment, which will allow the process to begin for the possible annexation of Arroyo Grande.
Arroyo Grande will likely be a proving ground for the future of how the State Land Department manages the state trust lands. Various stakeholders already have been very active in the process. Interestingly, while Oro Valley initiated the annexation discussion with the Department, Pima County has effectively dictated much of the development of the conceptual plan. Pima County, who has been the prime orchestrator of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, has been openly critical of Oro Valley’s commitment to preserving open space. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry recently sent a memo to Oro Valley Town Manager David Andrews expressing concern over the absence of wording in the general plan ensuring that open space in Arroyo Grande and a wildlife corridor are sold for below-market value for conservation purposes. Despite Pima County’s desire to purchase some 6,000 acres of the Arroyo Grande, it recently abandoned such efforts.
Oro Valley’s Andrews recently responded to such criticism by stating that "The preservation of open space in perpetuity is a deal breaker for the town." The next phase – the pre-annexation development agreement – will prove the most interesting as the stakeholders hammer out what actually will be included in the final annexation agreement. Whether Oro Valley is truly committed to the same goals as Pima County remains to be seen. Nothing better than watching jurisdictions joust.