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Saturday, July 23, 2011

$86 million land purchase would expand Scottsdale preserve




Scottsdale is looking to buy 4,419 acres of state land with a price tag of $86 million for its McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The Arizona State Land Department plans to sell two north Scottsdale parcels the city wants at auction in November or December. A recent appraisal set the minimum bid for one parcel of 1,937 acres at $41 million and the other parcel of 2,482 acres at $45 million, said Vanessa Hickman, deputy state land commissioner.

Scottsdale is applying for matching funds from the state's Growing Smarter conservation fund, but only $40 million is available for Maricopa County entities. Phoenix is seeking $6 million from the fund to buy state trust land for its Sonoran Preserve.

"That's not keeping us from going forward with the acquisition," said Kroy Ekblaw, Scottsdale preserve director.

Scottsdale has acquired about half the 34,000 acres of desert and mountain terrain it has targeted for conservation, and there is not enough preserve-tax revenue to complete the job. Two voter-approved sales-tax measures for preserve acquisition are expected to raise an additional $115 million before they expire in 2025 and 2034.

City acquisition of the two state trust-land parcels would increase the size of the preserve to roughly 21,400 acres, leaving 12,600 more acres to acquire.

It's unclear how much money Scottsdale could receive this year from the Growing Smarter fund, Ekblaw said.

The fund, which is administered by the Arizona State Parks Board, is nearly depleted.

Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission is considering funding options the city can pursue to complete the preserve, said Howard Myers, commission chairman.

"Obviously, we don't have enough in what's left to buy all we want," he said.

Last year, Scottsdale bought 2,000 acres of state trust land near Dixileta Drive and Alma School Road for $44 million, with half the funding from the Growing Smarter fund. The city was the only bidder.

Scottsdale is planning to build trails for the area and restore land scarred by off-road vehicles, shooting and illegal dumping. Five stewards from the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy on Thursday were wielding picks and shovels on a revegetation project at the Black Hills Tank northeast of Fraesfield Mountain.

The stock tank was bulldozed more than a year ago, and volunteers have been working to plant and nurture native grasses, mesquite trees and cactuses to control erosion, said Robbin Schweitzer, a city preserve manager.

One of the parcels of state land for sale later this year is northeast of Dixileta Drive and Pima Road and stretches along the Lone Mountain Road alignment to 136th Street.

The second parcel, which is a higher priority for acquisition, is on both sides of Rio Verde Drive from 136th Street to 122nd Street. It borders the McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Scottsdale would have to compete with other bidders at the state land auction if homebuilders decide to go after the land.

Myers, of the preserve commission, does not think builders will be in any position to buy the large parcels given the low demand for new housing.

"We have money, and they don't," he said. "At least that's the way we hope it goes."

Ross Smith, senior vice president at Cassidy Turley BRE Commercial, said the appraisal price for the state land does not seem unreasonable. But he noted that comparable prices of large tracts of Scottsdale land are hard to find these days since few land deals have been made.

Cynthia Peters, Phoenix parks and preserve administrator, said Phoenix will apply for $6 million of Growing Smarter funds to buy 595 acres of state land in the area of Seventh Street and Dixileta Drive. The parcel has been appraised at $12 million.

The Arizona State Parks Board is expected to consider allocation of the Growing Smarter funds in September. No dates have been set for the state land auctions.

by Peter Corbett The Arizona Republic Jul. 22, 2011 08:45 AM




$86 million land purchase would expand Scottsdale preserve

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