Scottsdale begins public process of ensuring preserve lands

A snapshot of the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitor's Bureau)Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Members of Scottsdale City Council say they intend to make good on the community promise to ensure acres of land known as the McDowell Sonoran Preserve are classified “suitable for conservation.”

The city of Scottsdale is hosting an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17 at Florence Ely Nelson Desert Park, 8950 E. Pinnacle Peak Road, focused on two zoning cases that seek to rezone 22,300 acres of land as “conservation open space.”

Scottsdale officials say preserving these lands protects the main ridgeline of the McDowell Mountains and expands the land area of an important wildlife corridor connected to nearly three million acres of Tonto National Forest.

The preserve land includes the majority of ridgeline in the southern McDowell Mountains.

The lands generally are located north of the Thunderbird Road alignment, south of the Bell Road alignment, east of the 120th Street alignment and west of the 136th Street alignment.

“These are the initial open houses and let me be clear that there are two different zoning cases,” said Kroy Ekblaw, Scottsdale preserve director, in a Dec. 9 phone interview.

Both cases, which Mr. Eckblaw says has the ultimate goal of rezoning 22,300 acres from various uses such as residential, commercial and resort designations, are expected to hit a planning commission agenda in February or March 2015.

“We have bought all of the land usable for conservation,” he explained. “Ultimately, this will all go through the public process.”

1217Ns News Story (Preserve)The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve is point of pride for many in the local community

Most recently, Scottsdale acquired 2,365 acres of land at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve at a state land auction held Nov. 19. The city’s successful bid was $21.3 million – about $8 million of that will come from a Growing Smarter State Trust Land Acquisition Grant approved by the Arizona State Parks Board in September.

The remainder of the purchase price will come from money generated by two dedicated sales taxes approved by Scottsdale voters in 1995 and 2004.

“We have preserved these lands and, through a citizen vote, once these lands are rezoned it will remain in perpetuity according to ordinance,” said Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte.

“This is important because there is a section of land outside of the conservation area of the designation with different allowable uses that could impact the preserve. This is taking all of that into consideration.”

Councilwoman Korte calls the pending rezoning cases “housekeeping” matters.

“This is all about building trust,” she said. “We have promised the citizens that when we passed an increase in those taxes to purchase these lands, we were going to protect them. It’s all about establishing trust and transparency.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Milhaven says the current open houses and those to follow as the rezoning process gets under way in early 2015 may spark new interest in the preserve lands.

“This is closing that loop and fulfilling our promise,” she said of the rezoning efforts now afoot. “We are going to preserve and make sure it is saved that way.”

The people of Scottsdale have spoken and they want the land known as the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to remain protected, Councilwoman Milhaven points out.

“The people have voted several times that the desert needs to be preserved and it is special,” she said. “This is first part of that effort.”

News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 via e-mail at tthornton@newszap.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/nvnewsman

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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