Thursday, July 14, 2011 blogs - Scottsdale Republic Editorials Blog - SREditorials - Completing preserve a noble ambition

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is Scottsdale's embodiment of the quote that “a man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for.”

Heaven is elusive, but it's getting closer.

Since Jim Lane became mayor, the city has stepped up purchases using a state program that stretches local dollars. If the latest effort is successful, Scottsdale will have added one-fifth of the 34,400-acre goal using state Growing Smarter dollars.

The program provides up to half the purchase price of land set aside for preservation.

During the Mary Manross administration, the city put its hopes in state-trust land reform and the promise of free or reduced-price land, much of it in key portions of the preserve. Had reform occurred, the city's preserve funds would have gone a lot further. They might have come close to covering the cost of the Desert Discovery Center.

By the time Lane took office, hopes for trust-land reform were fading. So he pushed to start using Growing Smarter funds, which had gone mostly to Phoenix.

The city bought 400 acres near Pima and Alma School roads in December 2009, splitting the $6.5 million cost with the program. In October, Growing Smarter money helped the city buy 2,000 acres, mostly between Dixieleta and Lone Mountain roads for $44.1 million.

Now comes the big one. The city is applying to the program for help buying 4,400 acres in four large tracts, including the critical link that would join the northern and southern portions of the preserve. The land includes key features, such as Rawhide Wash, portions of three mountains and a boulder field.

Depending on the state Trust Land Department's appraisal, expected later this month, the purchase could take all or most of the $40.5 million available for Maricopa County municipalities in this final year of the Growing Smarter program.

If the city is successful, the preserve will grow to more than 21,400acres. That's quite an achievement.

And then comes the real challenge: The final 12,862 acres, including 4,000 acres along Pima Road from Jomax to Stagecoach Pass in which developers may have an interest. It could get expensive.

Preserve funds, collected through two sales taxes, will go only so far. There is unlikely to be enough to complete the preserve.

Rumblings of the coming debate are beginning. Should the city pull back the proposed boundaries of the preserve? Should it ask voters to tax themselves more to complete the preserve as planned? Should it negotiate with potential developers to find a halfway position, one that allows some homes while preserving key routes for wildlife?

No option is particularly palatable. But the starting position for this conversation should be a recognition that the preserve has always been like the search for the Holy Grail. It is a noble aspiration.

The community should hold onto the goal of completing the full 34,400 acres for as long as possible. Our reach should continue to exceed our grasp.

by Jul 13, 2011 blogs - Scottsdale Republic Editorials Blog - SREditorials - Completing preserve a noble ambition

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