Pima County To Acquire Long Sought-After Painted Hills Acreage

Pima County has reached a tentative agreement to purchase 286 acres in the Tucson Mountain Foothills for $7.5 million, pending approval of the Board of Supervisors. The deal also requires the city of Tucson’s acquiescence to a 2004 open space bond amendment reallocating funds to cover part of the payment.

The county has long sought the Painted Hills property, first attempting to acquire it with money allocated in the 1997 bond election. That money ended up acquiring a smaller parcel nearby. The county tried again in 2004 with open space acquisition funds from that year’s bond election but again was unsuccessful. Subsequent to that effort, the property has been sold a few times, finally ending up in the hands of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System. Attempts by the pension system to develop the property over the last six years met a number of stumbling blocks, mostly over access to water lines.

The pension fund purchased the land in 2006 for about $94,400 an acre. The county could acquire it for about $26,200 an acre. The county intends to use the 2004 bond funds to make a $3 million initial payment this year and then will pay $1 million a year for five years. With interest, the total purchase cost is roughly $8.3 million. However that interest cost could come down some as the county hopes to use proceeds from a planned 2015 bond election, if voters approve, to pay off the balance in 2016. Absent further bond funds, the county may use proceeds from the Starr Pass Environmental Enhancement Fund, which is a 20-year, roughly $17-million agreement between the county and the Star Pass resort and homes developer to use a percentage of Starr Pass sales proceeds for environmental protection in the Tucson Mountains. Beginning in 2016, the county’s percentage of proceeds from that fund increases and should provide slightly more than $1 million a year. Other funds may be available for the purchase if necessary, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry told the Supervisors in a memo Wednesday.

“This acquisition, if approved, is a significant expansion of open space in the Tucson Mountains. It essentially extends the Tucson Mountain Park into the urban area, and will greatly expand our natural resource protection in the Tucson Mountains and add to our hiking and natural recreation opportunities in the park,” Huckelberry said.

The property is wedged between Speedway Boulevard to the north and Anklam Road to the south a couple of miles west of Pima Community College’s West Campus. A southeastern spur of the Painted Hills parcel along Anklam Road abuts the historic 23-acre Mary Henderson property, which the county acquired from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum a few years ago. The Board of Supervisors approved a master plan for the Henderson house and property last year. The Henderson property is a couple of hundred feet away from the Starr Pass Common Area, which is preserved open space included as part of the Starr Pass development agreement. And that Common Area property is adjacent to the massive 20,000-acre Tucson Mountain Park, one of the largest natural resource areas owned by a local government in the United States.

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