What would it take for the city of Tucson to allow a farmer’s market to set up in Udall Regional Park?
An act of Congress.
A 28-year-old bureaucratic mistake related to land exchange between the city and the Bureau of Land Management has limited the growth and development of the northeast-side park and blocked nearly any type of commercial enterprises inside the park, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road.
The city, which operates the park, has been quietly lobbying Congress to remove the BLM restriction on the park, but stepped up its efforts last week with City Manager Michael Ortega and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, the bill was approved by the committee and will be sent to the House for a floor vote.
The bipartisan bill authored by McSally, the Udall Park Land Exchange Completion Act, would complete a 28-year-old land exchange and allow the city to own outright the land where the 173-acre park sits.
Documents from the 1989 land exchange indicate it was the intention of the BLM to transfer full title to the city for land where Udall Park is located without any constraints on how to develop it.
As part of the agreement, the city in 1989 negotiated to transfer 297 acres of city land worth about $4 million adjacent to Saguaro National Park to the BLM for the title of the land where Udall Park is sited.
The deal was never finalized because of staff changes at the BLM, the city and other involved parties, and commercial activity is prohibited at the park, according to the city.
“My legislation would formally complete the long-overdue agreement on land that has already been exchanged at fair market value,” McSally testified at the hearing.
“Udall Park is a beautiful place for our Southern Arizona community to gather, but the city of Tucson has been unable to improve and expand the park to its full potential,” McSally told the committee.
“Federal red tape should not stand in the way of communities developing local parks.”
Ortega said the city has long had its hands tied in terms of commercial opportunities to supplement park funding.
The legislation “is needed to complete what should have been completed almost 28 years ago and to provide an enhanced recreational and economic future for the citizens of Tucson,” Ortega said.
With the restrictions lifted, the city could allow for part-time leases like a farmer’s market or something more permanent, like cell towers.
Councilman Paul Cunningham says a developer approached him a few years ago about a possible partnership at the park, but it never went past the preliminary stages due to the BLM restriction.
Ortega cautioned that while the bill is a good first step, he didn’t expect companion legislation to be heard in the Senate until sometime next year.
Any large-scale changes to the park are likely years away, he said.