CANYON CONUNDRUM: Just a short drive north of Tucson, a couple miles west of the blue and beige Catalina Mountains, there's a wash whose waters flow year round.
Lined with thick stands of saguaros and ocotillos and palo verde, Honeybee Canyon's wash is one of only three in Pima County ranked by biologists as a Class One riparian habitat. (The others with constant streams of water are Sabino Creek and Cienega Creek near Benson.) The Honey Bee wash helps a thick population of native and migrating birds and animals to thrive.
The developers of Rancho Vistoso like the wash too. Most of their seven-square mile development, in Oro Valley, west of Oracle Road, is the kind of bare-bladed-desert, pink-house-packed-against-pink-house development that's been ravaging the Tucson valley deserts in every direction. But Honey Bee gives Vistoso Partners a prestige--read costly--location to sell. Right now they're advertising 44 lots on the west side of the wash at a starting price of $120,000, gushing that Honey Bee is "exclusive," not to mention "gated."
"Honey Bee Canyon is their only acreage that's prime," says Nancy Young Wright, founder of the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition, one group that's trying to save some of the canyon from development. Lot prices, Wright estimates, will go on up to $300,000. The purchasers can be expected to put some pricey houses onto this prime location, making Honey Bee a habitat suitable not for mule deer but for millionaires.
Right now the neighborhood coalition is staging a juried art show of works by 20 artists over at the nearby Wolfe Gallery on Oracle Road. Many of the paintings, photographs and drawings are emotional renditions of the canyon, offering glimpses of its Hohokam petroglyphs and its cacti. A portion of the money raised from sales will go toward the coalition's battles.
How did it happen that a precious resource like Honey Bee fell into the hands of developers? It's a complicated story of financial wheeling and dealing, but there's no getting away from Oro Valley's approval of "development rights" for the entire Rancho Vistoso project in 1987. In 1993, when they gave final authorization for 44 homesites on the canyon's westside, residents woke up to the fact that Honey Bee was in imminent danger.
The fate of the canyon's eastside is not yet entirely decided. Vistoso Partners is expected to get final approval in January for 92 lots there. But Wright and her cohorts have high hopes for the remaining 36 lots, representing 51 acres of prime Honey Bee habitat. Citizen groups managed to get a bond issue on the ballot for March 1996, asking voters to cough up about $3.2 million in bond money to buy the 51 acres outright. The town, Wright said, "has to choose between wildlife and development."
"The money from the art show goes toward the neighborhood coalition fight," Wright said, "to help us continue our efforts. I don't know how the bond election will go. But it will be a good, hard battle this spring."
The PEEP Show (Promote Effective Ecological Preservation) continues through December 30 at the Wolfe Gallery, 9600 N. Oracle Road, Oro Valley. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information call 742-4222.
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