Grunt Work

Developer David Mehl Prepares To Take A Large, Stinking Dump On The Desert--To The Delight Of The Dogpatch Town Council.
By Jim Nintzel

AND THEY WONDER why we call the place Dogpatch.

Last month, the Marana Town Council voted 6-to-1 to approve Cottonwood Properties' request to rezone an astonishing 3,700 acres, laying the groundwork for developer David Mehl to build RedHawk, a sprawling community of up to 13,000 homes, three luxury resorts and four golf courses on 5,600 acres at the base of the Tortolita Mountains. The entire RedHawk project actually dwarfs legendary land speculator Don Diamond's gargantuan Rocking K development southwest of Tucson, where bulldozers will be plowing the way for a resort and retirement community later this year.

But while Rocking K faced angry protest and eventual concessions from Diamond, it's been a whole different story with RedHawk, which has a number of northwest residents incensed. They're currently collecting signatures to force a referendum on the Council's decision--and, because they need only 149 valid signatures by January 21, they've got a pretty good chance of succeeding.

Forget for a moment that the development will mean the bulldozing of the ironwood forests that fan out beneath the Tortilitas, the construction of a gated community inside Ruelas Canyon and massive damage to an entire eco-system. The Council's critics point out the financial impact on the Town of Marana and neighboring county taxpayers will be staggering.

Yet the Marana council members are so unsophisticated they seem unable to grasp the full impact of their actions. Even Councilman Herb Kai, who voted against the project, thinks it's a pretty darn good idea.

"I just kind of hate to see this desert cut up--the ironwood, saguaro, mesquite, whatever else is out there," Kai told an Arizona Daily Star reporter. "But I think a developer can do what he wants with his own property as long as he meets some criteria."

Here's a hint, Herb--he can't blade and grade unless you rezone the land.

The rubes in Dogpatch think they won a significant concession when Mehl agreed to rescind a breathtaking provision in the original development agreement. Under that provision, Mehl would have been entitled to half the revenue generated within the development from Marana's sales tax. Mehl planned to use the money--estimated to be about $12 million over the next 20 years--to pay for roads and other infrastructure within RedHawk.

It's always the responsibility of developers to build roads and infrastructure within their projects. Mehl never should have had a chance to get his hands on that money in the first place. If the Town Council thinks stripping him of that provision represents a serious approach to planned growth, they're morons.

The council members and Mehl glowingly describe how RedHawk is a "master-planned community." Big deal. Take a look at Rancho Vistoso, that other great master-planned community:

While enjoying the good life--champagne, limos, private jets, vacations around the world--Conley Wolfswinkel promised to give the people of Oro Valley the glorious master-planned community of Rancho Vistoso. Then, as now, a town council was so dazzled they rubber-stamped all this terribly rich man asked of them.

Then Conley got mixed up with Charlie Keating and somehow lost millions of dollars, eventually ending up bankrupt. Taxpayers ate the loss as the RTC took ownership of Rancho Vistoso, only to auction it off at a fraction of its value to a consortium of investors led by Conley Wolfwinkel's brother, Daryl.

Now all that talk of hot-air ballooning and lakeside picnics has been forgotten. Rancho Vistoso is just another development limping haphazardly along just fast enough to obliterate a precious desert oasis like Honeybee Canyon.

All the while, the taxpayers in the Amphi School District scramble to find enough money to buy land for schools. Seems the master planners of Vistoso were only willing to give up the really crappy parcels for education.

RedHawk has set aside two sites for elementary schools--provided the school district can come up with the money to build one by 2005 and another by 2015.

Of course, the Marana School District is already at bonding capacity, so no one knows where they'll get the money to actually build those schools. And don't think that an impact fee--should the state Legislature ever give districts the power to levy one--would solve the problem, because the Marana Town Council included the following fine print in the RedHawk development agreement:

"To the extent that the school district assesses development impact fees within RedHawk, these fees will be waived until such time as the Developer has received reimbursement of the fair market value of the school site(s)."

Besides, does anyone really believe two elementary schools can handle the children living in the 13,000 units Mehl has permission to build? And what about sites for middle and high schools? Guess the taxpayers in the Marana School District can cough up for those.

And that's just the impact on schools. How about the cost of providing police protection for 25,000 people? The cost of widening all those two-lane county roads leading to RedHawk, which will be exempt from the county's newly passed transportation impact fees? The cost of a new sewer treatment plant?

As northwest resident Lan Lester, a leader in the referendum drive, says, "When they want to add that many units, it's going to have a helluva impact on the rest of us." TW

Image Map - Alternate Text is at bottom of Page

Political Links
The Hall of Heads
Search the Currents Section

 Page Back  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Cinema | Back Page | Forums | Search

Weekly Wire    © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth