By Jim Wright
THE WINGED MONKEY minions of legendary land speculator Don Diamond have been twisting arms in the Pima County administration building. They've been attempting to pressure certain county officials to enact a development impact fee ordinance for the far eastside's Rincon Valley, which would include Diamond's massive Rocking K properties.
Last week, The Weekly reported Diamond's people are already in negotiation with city officials over the possible annexation of the Rocking K Ranch, consisting of several thousand desert acres in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. Diamond wants to build three golf courses, several luxury resorts and up to 10,000 housing units there.
Impact fees would help transfer the burden of payment for essential infrastructure from county taxpayers and Diamond to those who purchase from him.
Such fees are allowable under Arizona statute. However, to enact such an ordinance would take a significant amount of county staff time. The process apparently wasn't fast enough for Diamond, so he commissioned a report by Greuner Engineering on the viability of regional impact fees in the Rincon Valley. That was on June 22 of last year.
On that same day, a preliminary draft of a "Rincon Valley Needs Assessment Study" surfaced at the county. This Diamond-commissioned study was intended as a rough draft and guide for county staffers. Diamond's message was clear: Here's our needs assessment study, now get off your ass and produce your own. If not, use ours.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry got the message loud and clear. Just six days after the Diamond-commissioned study surfaced, Huckelberry wrote a memo to John Bernal, then the Transportation & Flood Control District director and Ben Goff, Transportation Systems manager.
"I recently learned that there may be some interest in developing a Rincon Valley impact fee ordinance," Huckelberry wrote, with more than just a slight understatement.
Huckelberry also ordered transportation staffers to begin discussions with major land owners in the Rincon Valley, including Diamond's Rocking K operation, regarding development of an impact fee benefit area.
Pima County Supervisor Raul Grijalva says Huckelberry's zippy response to Diamond's interest is not surprising.
"Diamond, more than any other developer, gets preferential treatment from elected officials and staff alike," Grijalva says. "When Diamond or any of his staff show up here, staff, and this can include Huckelberry, assume he has three votes (on the Board of Supervisors) in his pocket. Usually they're right."
Usually, but not this time. The transportation staffers, including Goff, balked at the Diamond-commissioned needs assessment study.
"There was no way we could allow (Diamond's) study to supplant a needs assessment by our department," said Goff. "Diamond's study was woefully incomplete. It failed to address all the issues needed to be addressed under state statute."
Other county officials have told The Weekly Diamond's people "are trying to rush the process."
"Diamond is not satisfied with negotiating impact fees for the Rocking K development alone, but has proposed that the development agreement between the Rocking K and the county actually extend well beyond the Diamond-held properties," said one county official. Transportation officials flatly refused this proposal, saying such an agreement would unfairly bind future developers without their input or agreement.
When asked why he would order county staffers to devote valuable time to an impact fee ordinance for the Rincon Valley when the City of Tucson is exploring annexation, Huckelberry responded, "Well, if the city should annex the Rocking K, then the deal's off (no impact fees). If they fail to annex, we have impact fees in place. So we win either way."
Hmmm. So does Diamond.
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