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Local Opinion: Marana general plan must include provisions for nature, wildlife
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Local Opinion: Marana general plan must include provisions for nature, wildlife

OPINION: Marana must include its natural spaces and wildlife into its general plan

Late afternoon light falls in an area in the Tortolita Mountains in 2012

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the Town of Marana, with Proposition 478, is asking voters to ratify a vision for the town as it develops into a city. Will Marana become another overbuilt city in the desert, or will it develop in an environmentally friendly way in harmony with its surroundings? The vision (“Make Marana 2040 General Plan”) is fully appreciative of the surrounding natural assets, touting the Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Park and Coronado National Forest, among others.

But these assets are outside Marana. Marana itself is in fact one big wildlife corridor recognized in various regional plans, such as Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and even Marana’s own past planning documents. Although the general plan states a need for wildlife corridors, its land use plans would severely constrain that possibility, and without changes, would all but destroy them. Only grudgingly does Marana recognize its own Tortolita Preserve, a key piece of any future wildlife corridor between the Tucson Mountains and the Tortolita Mountains, and has no commitment to work with the State Land Department to convert its current 99 year lease into a sale.

The general plan also labels the area where the Santa Cruz River, Rillito River and Cañada del Oro meet as an employment zone. Being currently a quarry and subject to flooding, this area would make more sense restored to natural areas, flood control basins and recreational developments.

Although touting the values of the Santa Cruz River, the general plan does not propose much protection for it. With broad continuous areas protected along its banks, the river could continue its role as an essential north-south wildlife corridor. Finally, how would the Tucson Mountains connect to the Santa Cruz River, across to the Tortolita Preserve and ultimately to the Tortolita Mountains?

Moreover, the plan has no provision for true low-density residential housing in its more rural areas. The best it can achieve is one house per acre in its rural residential designation, quite different from the 0.3 homes per acre in the SR zoning of Pima County and Tucson. An average rural density of 0.25 homes per acre, with provision for clustering, would provide much flexibility in preserving key components of the natural landscape with the potential of providing outstanding residential developments at the same time.

Marana has the potential to develop in a fully sustainable way, maintaining and taking advantage of its natural values to provide a model of a prosperous city in synergy with nature. Consequences would be the widespread acclaim that accrues to green cities worldwide, outstanding opportunities for recreation and tourism, and residential areas that would attract the employees of high value industries.

Marana values the natural areas outside its boundaries, but the current plan would harm them by cutting them off from each other, inhibiting migration and dispersal of animals and plants, and ultimately degrading these areas, as has been shown repeatedly worldwide when natural areas become isolated.

The question is, will Marana have an exploitative relationship with its surroundings, or will it instead be a positive contributor to the regional environment so valued here? Marana voters should vote NO on proposition 478 and send the general plan back to the drawing boards so that a more positive more forward-looking vision can be developed.

Peter Chesson is president of the Tucson Mountains Association and a regents professor at the University of Arizona.

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