Opinion: Desert Discovery Center facts misrepresented by opponents

As a 30-year resident of Scottsdale, and as one who lives immediately adjacent to the Sonoran Preserve, I support the Desert Discovery Center.

The community will invest $1 billion of public tax money to acquire 30,000 plus acres of land for the Preserve; the DDC is likely to use 15 acres of flat land (originally designated for residential development at what is referred to as the “Gateway” trailhead where Bell Road meets the Preserve) for a non-commercial scientific/educational purpose.

Jim Derouin

Jim Derouin

The money we voted to invest was well spent; that is not the issue.  The issue is that it is far too tempting for those of us who live in immediate proximity to the Preserve to think of the Preserve as belonging to “us” rather than to the community as a whole.  That is why I am concerned about the misinformation that is being spread about what the DDC is intended to be.

The facts are as follows.

The DDC will not be not “commercial.” 

The DDC is intended to be a global center for scientific research and education about arid environments that will serve both residents and tourists.  It is not a “commercial facility” nor would a commercial facility be legally permitted under the city ordinance governing the Preserve.

The DDC will not be “big.”    

Opponents allege that the DDC will “blade” 30 acres of desert land for a huge, costly facility.  The facts are as follows.  First, the city council directed that the project design be limited to a 30-acre envelop; it did not allow the use of 30 acres of land. Second, the original DDC plan submitted in 2010 has been withdrawn and, as directed by the city council, a new, smaller plan is being prepared.

Third, the new design, including parking, will likely involve approximately 15 acres which amounts to about .05 percent of Preserve lands. Compare this to the fact that there is an existing trailhead at the Gateway already and existing trailheads and trails in the Preserve, including three within a mile of where I live, already cover hundreds of acres of Preserve land.

The DDC was always intended to be built at the Gateway site.

The DDC has been planned for the Gateway for the past 19 years. Location alternatives were studied in 1997 and again in 2013 – both concluding that the Gateway was the best location.  A task force appointed by the city council in 2013 not only concluded that the Gateway was the best location based on an independent study, but the council accepted the report 6-0 (with then Councilman Littlefield voting to accept the report).

The planning process has been public and transparent.

The DDC has been considered in four publicly funded and publicly reported studies, two sets of publicly presented architectural plans, a series of presentations to the city council, several council votes and signs at the Gateway providing notice of public input opportunities.  The DDC is the most-studied, most-vetted, most publicly-exposed major project in Scottsdale’s history.

The DDC concept is a legally permitted use of the Preserve.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve ordinance clearly envisions and allows uses such as the DDC for educational, research and tourist purposes provided that they are properly permitted pursuant to the ordinance.

In summary, the Preserve is a community asset purchased with public dollars contributed by all residents of the city.  We shouldn’t selfishly restrict the full and proper use of such an outstanding, and costly, public asset. Those of us who reside in north Scottsdale get to benefit from the Preserve through increased housing values, convenient access to the Preserve and limited commercial development.

The fact is, however, that everyone paid for the Preserve and, therefore, everyone should be able to “benefit” through increasing tourist use of the Preserve and through a beautiful new asset located in Scottsdale in the Preserve.  It is wrong to lock it up for those who live closest to it.

Editor’s note: Jim Derouin is an attorney and longtime Scottsdale resident.  He has served on the Scottsdale Ethics Taskforce and the Charter Review Task Force.

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