When my wife and I moved to Tucson in 2011, we sought a country lifestyle away from dense population and protected from commercial growth. We found it just across Old Spanish Trail from Saguaro National Park East in an area known as the “buffer zone”—the collar of land that protects our national park from inappropriate influences of surrounding activities. That pleasant, pristine area and the quiet stillness we enjoy are about to be compromised by a commercial motel cleverly dubbed the “Bike Ranch.”
Developer El Cortijo LLC originally filed with Pima County in 2014 for a conditional use permit that would allow them to build directly across from the park’s entrance. The filing met strong opposition from homeowners, county development staff and the park itself, and was denied.
The developer’s latest filing is carefully designed to come in under existing suburban ranch zoning put in place in the mid-1990s that calls for single-family housing on 3.3-acre lots throughout the 1-mile buffer zone. While the targeted 19-acre project would allow for six residences, the plan calls for 49 casitas (many are two-story buildings), a 34-foot-high bike barn, a restaurant, at least one liquor license, a swimming pool, lighted outdoor gathering areas and lighted parking for 79 vehicles. The finished project would employ 60 people and could house more than 100 guests per night.
As an avid cyclist, I support the idea of a resort for cyclists. Tucson draws cyclists from around the country and the world for winter training. Our attention to bike trails, bike safety, El Tour de Tucson and the recently completed Loop was another reason we settled here. But Saguaro National Park is protected for good reason. Locating what amounts to a resort motel directly across the street from the entrance is not in keeping with that protection.
The planned development would blade down more than 13.5 acres of natural desert landscape, displace and kill wildlife, block natural migratory paths, illuminate the park’s dark skies, block now-unobstructed views of the Rincons, result in waste disposal issues, raise noise levels and create both traffic and safety issues along Old Spanish Trail and East Escalante Road.
The area around Saguaro National Park’s entrance is already unsafe. Increased traffic to and from the development boom in Vail has made it a dangerous spot for cyclists, one where frequent accidents are already happening. Neither the roads nor the bike lanes are wide enough to accommodate groups of cyclists, literally forcing traffic to swerve into oncoming lanes. Adding hordes of cyclists would be a huge mistake. They would either be crossing Old Spanish Trail to ride inside the park, or riding down Escalante to get to the Loop.
But cyclists would come to a resort only in the winter months. In the summer months, they’d be home training, competing or simply riding. And the developers admit that they would book the casitas to area visitors during the off-months. So it’s a motel.
Possibly most important, allowing the proposed resort to locate within the buffer zone would set a precedent for further high-density commercial expansion all along the park’s corridor. Tucson enjoys the beauty and allure of national parks on our east and west sides, and they must be protected. Creeping commercialism will ruin the approaches to our parks and drive down nearby property values.
If you would like to support preservation of the pristine and protected areas around Saguaro National Park, please join other supporters at the upcoming public hearing on April 4 at 1 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 130 W. Congress St. For more information, visit savesaguaronationalpark.com