City council seeks new preserve acreage in state trust land

A graphic rendering identifying the separate parcels of land. (submitted photo)

A graphic rendering identifying the separate parcels of land. Parcels labeled 1 and 6 in this graphic are the two areas the city of Scottsdale is pursuing at the September land auction. (submitted photo)

Scottsdale City Council is moving forward with a state trust land rezoning case that has been in the works for over a decade with the goal of obtaining additional lands for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as new acreage is expected to be auctioned off this fall.

The council voted 6-1 during a regular city council meeting July 5, to adopt Ordinance No. 4267, approving a zoning district map amendment for 4,020 acres of state land in the northern region of the city. Councilman Guy Phillips was the dissenting vote.

As a part of this rezoning agreement, the city is pursuing 400 acres of the land during a land auction scheduled for Sept. 21, to be used for preservation.

“There’s really a 20-year history here that started with the visions of the preserves,” said Scottsdale Preserve Director Kroy Ekblaw during a July 6 phone interview.

“Much of that vision included the state trust land goal, and the general plan approved in 2002 was that vision.”

City council is now finishing the vision by establishing parcel boundaries, sizes and zoning — aspects the General Plan did not include.

The Arizona State Land Department has requested the zoning of the land be brought into compliance with the 2002 General Plan approval before it would schedule additional auctions of trust land.

The land in question — stretching from east Stagecoach Pass Road, south to east Happy Valley Road; and north to Scottsdale Road, east to north 104th Street — was first pursued by the city in 1998.

State trust land is not public land, but rather land that is held in trust and managed for the sole purpose of generating revenues for the State Trust land beneficiaries — the largest of which is Arizona’s K-12 education.

In the late 1990s the city filed an application with the state land department requesting about 16,600 acres be identified as suitable for conservation.

Following a three-year process, the state land commissioner reclassified almost 13,000 acres suitable for conservation. The order was amendable subject to the city of Scottsdale working with the Arizona State Land Department.

In order to maintain the overall value of the trust, the State Land Commission set the expectations for the city to work with the ASLD to accommodate an increase in value for the 4,000 acres.

The majority of lands which had been designated as suitable for conservation were planned for natural open space, according to city documents. The remaining 4,000 acres of land were primarily designated as a variety of single-family residential uses that were noted to allow up to 5,000 new residents.

In recent years, the city successfully bid on 12,800 acres of state trust land, including areas designated for conservation.

In 2013 the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission recommended the city council direct staff to begin the process with ASLD to pursue applications to auction an additional 400 acres of land that the city prioritized for inclusion in the preserve.

These parcels are known as 1 and 1A.

After the ASLD requested the zoning of the land be brought into compliance with the General Plan, the council unanimously supported initiation of a zoning case in September 2014.

The McDowell Preserve Commission reaffirmed their support and recommendation to the city council to purchase these parcels for preservation on April 13.

Fulfilling the agreement

Members of the community spoke out in opposition and support of the rezoning case during the July 5 public hearing.

After public comment, a motion to extend the rezoning case and subsequent land auction by 90 days for residents unaware of the changes was denied by a 4-3 vote.

Mark Edelman, manager and planner for the state land department, told council community outreach began almost two years ago and included three open houses, two public meetings and eight civic and business group presentations.

In addition, there was an e-mail list with over 500 recipients and 300 comment cards collected over that time.

Vice Mayor Kathy Littlefield expressed her commitment toward the state land department, to honor the agreement made years ago in what she referred to as a “massive up-zoning.”

“This is a continuation of the 2002 agreement with the state land trust. Over the years, they have worked with the city of Scottsdale — at our request — to reclassify land so that we could afford to buy it and put it in the preserve,” said Vice Mayor Littlefield.

“In return for their help, we promised to rezone about 4,000 acres so they could recoup the money they had lost in the process.”

Following the proposed purchases of parcels 1 and 1A there will not be additional funds to continue buying land, said Councilwoman Linda Milhaven.

“In terms of the preserve tax that we have left, we don’t have much money left,” said Councilwoman Milhaven. “The purchase we’re talking about, parcel 1 and 1A, that’s going to be it folks. There isn’t any more money to purchase any more of the land.”

If the city is successful in obtaining parcels 1 and 1A, the expected density could drop by 300-400 units from the 5,000 range if a developer were to purchase it, said Mr. Ekblaw.

“What you’ve seen is there will be over 13,000 acres protected and likely more, and a reduction in density assured by that zoning case,” said Mr. Ekblaw.

Any developer who plans to build on the parcels will be responsible for all infrastructure costs as well, Mr. Ekblaw said.

Parcel 1A, alongside rawhide wash is about 120 acres and its expected starting bid is to be in the low $2 million range. Parcel 1, along Pima and Dynamite Roads is about 294 acres and its starting bid is to be around $28 million.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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