Sahuarita’s rapid growth was reined in by the recession, but town leaders are trying to not let that slow them down.

They’re using the downtime to take a new look at an old plan to annex enough state-owned land to more than double the size of the town.

A planning process has begun, with public- input meetings coming later this year.

A committee of town staff and consultants has met a few times this year to talk about how the town could take in roughly 60 square miles from the State Land Department between current town limits and Houghton Road .

A previous attempt ended around six years ago when the state agency said the area was too large, and it wanted to see planning done first, said Assistant Town Manager Farhad Moghimi, who is leading a planning committee.

The new try would respond to that requirement by including a conceptual plan for land uses and transportation needs for that area in the town’s next general plan, which is due in July 2015, he said. And a State Land representative is serving on the planning committee.

The town would later try to annex the land in smaller pieces, not all at once, he said.

Since 2000, Sahuarita’s population rocketed to more than 26,300, up from about 3,200.

Plans to build out master-planned communities including Rancho Sahuarita and the Farmers Investment Co. property will fill out the town’s current boundaries.

After that, Sahuarita can only grow east.

It’s surrounded by unincorporated Green Valley and Forest Service lands to the south, tribal lands and city of Tucson lands to the north, and mines to the west.

Talks about annexing to the east have been going on for at least 10 years but never seemed to go anywhere, said former Mayor and Councilman Charles Oldham.

“I think there’s always been a wish that we would be able to control our destiny better if we also controlled the land adjacent to us,” he said.

Planning for the area is an unusual blank-slate opportunity, said Linda Morales, principal at The Planning Center and a member of the town’s planning committee.

Most of the land is zoned for low-density housing now, she said, but through the planning process the town could choose areas for workplaces, parks and perhaps even a college campus.

More than 60 percent of Sahuarita residents in the workforce commute outside of town to their jobs, Moghimi said.

The plan could help Sahuarita move away from being a bedroom community to being a self-sustaining one, Morales said.

“We need to look at how Sahuarita fits into the overall fabric of the community,” she said, and do it before the demand returns.

The proactive approach is a good one, said Will White, who runs the Land Advisors Organization in Tucson.

The supply of lots for single-family homes is dwindling, and demand is rising, he said.

Homebuilders have quietly returned to the Tucson metro area, and they’ll need 60,000 lots over the next 10 years, he said, and state land will be needed to meet that demand.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 573-4251. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.