Hay Fever

A proposed development causes tension in the Tanque Verde Valley

Dean Moreno points to the 1-acre lot sitting 3 feet above Tanque Verde Hay Feed and Supply, the business he has nurtured from the ground up for nearly two decades, and makes a simple observation: 150 tons of hay will feed a lot of horses for a long time, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that water flows downhill.

Moreno frets that if a local developer manages to jam more than a dozen new condominiums into that neighboring parcel, his problems will begin with errant water drainage ruining his hay, and end with future residents' petitioning for his eviction--or worse.

"I'm worried about the fire danger of my barn if they put 14 condominiums next door to me," says Moreno. "I'm worried about the places catching fire in the middle of the night, and you might have some old folks in there who can't hear the alarm. There might be a fatality."

Moreno's business has become the rallying point for rural eastside residents who are pushing the Pima County Board of Supervisors to block construction of the project, dubbed Tanque Verde Terrace. The developer, Bob Seal of Desert American Builders, plans to offer 14 units atop their own two-car garage for around $400,000 each, at the corner of Tanque Verde Loop and Tanque Verde Road.

While that acre has already been scraped raw of vegetation and awaits workers, hay--not lumber--is the still the only smell in the air. A series of continuances by the Pima County Board of Supervisors over the land-use debate, which area residents see as a turning point in their "rural village," have kept the air hammers silent.

The most recent delay came Tuesday, May 16, when supervisors expressed concerns about fire danger related to Moreno's hay shop.

Republican District 4 Supervisor Ray Carroll and community group members of the Tanque Verde Valley Association also have other less combustible--and more likely--scenarios in mind than potential blazes at Moreno's feed store.

"I'm interested, curious and concerned about the health ramifications of putting people cheek to jowl up against tons of hay. Obviously, if they don't have hay fever, in a couple seasons, they will," says Carroll. "Regardless, there are trucks, deliveries, accidents, noise and of course other hazards that are in place today."

Already, steady traffic buzzes through the intersection with beefy SUVs pushing the pace past the speed limit. The Academy of Tucson, a charter middle school that sits across the two-lane street from where the entrance to Tanque Verde Terrace is planned, could face a dangerous situation every time school bells ring.

"We all feel that Tucson is just being used up; there's areas where the developers just aren't interested in the potential impacts," says Sue Goode, president of the Tanque Verde Valley Association. "Even with the school across the street, this is like a test case."

Goode is just one of many community members who have been showing their numbers during recent Board of Supervisors meetings. On March 7, more than 20 residents made the cross-town trek to the Pima County Administration Building to preserve the future of their equestrian-friendly neighborhood, while the May 16 meeting drew more than twice that number. Among those vocal at the meetings is Murray Stein, a well-spoken computer consultant and Tanque Verde Valley homeowner.

Stein says the proposed housing exploits an old zoning plan left on the books from the 1960s, which never took into account the density ambitions of developers like Seal. While Stein believes that it's time for the county to tackle the area's zoning issues, he says that Tanque Verde Valley residents aren't opposed to changes in their community.

"On the face of it, this looks like a small thing," says Stein. "But it's representative of a much deeper and more significant issue to the residents here."

Stein echoes the majority of his neighbors, who say they would have appreciated a veterinarian's office or video store on that corner. However, Stein says that no one envisioned anything on the scale of Seal's plans.

"All this developer wants to do is make as much money as he possibly can--and that's fair enough. But he should be sensitive to the community's intent and what its needs are," says Stein.

After paying $168,000 for the acre about a year ago, Seal stands to profit handsomely from the Tanque Verde Terrace project, assuming the Board of Supervisors allows the development to go forward.

Phone calls to both Desert American Builders and Seal went unreturned.

For now, next to that controversial acre where overturned roots and cactus lay bleached under the spring sun, Moreno has an uneasy sense of where this rural village might be headed. He looks north across the busy two-lane road at a bustling and colorful landscape nursery, before striding off toward a flatbed driver delivering a fresh load of hay to his yard.

"You can go ask across the street. The builder made them an offer," says Moreno. "But I think they're going to hold out until those (condos) go up and ask for more money."