Two proposed developments near Sahuarita were given the OK by the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday.

One is the first step in a long process to master-plan the Farmers Investment Co. pecan groves for future development.

The other opens up a possibility for a land swap to save Painted Hills as open space.

Pecan groves plan praised

The commission approved the comprehensive plan amendment for 287 acres of Farmers Investment Co. (FICO) property near Continental Road and the Santa Cruz River for future residential and commercial developments. Later the company will come back to the commission with specific details for rezoning.

Dick Walden, whose family has farmed the land for more than 60 years, said he intends to continue running his successful pecan grove operation for many more years. But his family wants to be ready for change, too, he said.

Commission chairman Howard Richey congratulated Walden on his foresight and the commission unanimously approved the plan amendment. The plan will likely go to the Board of Supervisors next month.

FICO owns 7,000 acres in the Sahuarita area and there has been tremendous growth surrounding the property. In the long run, the Waldens intend to donate more than 1,000 acres to become open space, trails and wildlife corridors.

Because the project fronts 12 miles of the Santa Cruz River, FICO is also working on a river master plan that will look at wildlife habitat, water recharge and flood control issues. The entire project will comply with the Conservation Land System and the Dark Skies ordinances, the company said.

ranch could be traded

The commission also approved rezoning for development of the Hook M Ranch, which is in the Corona de Tucson area, near Sahuarita and Houghton roads.

The owner, Diamond Ventures, submitted a plan for 1,376 houses and 400 apartments on 716 acres. The project also includes open space, small commercial spaces and a school for the Vail School District. But it will be at least five years before the site is developed and the developer still needs the approval of the Board of Supervisors.

Commissioners expressed concerns about endangered Pima pineapple cactus on the site, water supply and lack of demand for housing.

Those concerns ultimately led commissioner Randall Holdridge to vote against the project.

Other commissioners' minds seemed to change in favor of the project when former commissioner Bruce Gungle said the point of this rezoning is to get the property ready for a possible land swap between Diamond Ventures, Pima County and the owner of Painted Hills.

He said the trade would preserve the saguaro-dotted Painted Hills property in the Tucson Mountains and allow that property's owner to develop the ranch instead.

South side Fry's approved

In other action, the commission approved rezoning 30 acres at the southeast corner of Mark and Valencia roads, near Casino del Sol, to allow for a Fry's grocery store and gas station, a day-care center and shops.

The project, which includes the conservation of a few Pima pineapple cacti, is a joint venture of Evergreen Development and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

The project next goes to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346.