Amphitheater School District may have to pay several thousand dollars for city land it has unknowingly been using since 1962.
The land is located within roughly six acres that the district has been using to house its graphics and printing center, its community extension programs office and its award-winning agricultural land laboratory, which teaches students about agriculture and farming.
According to records provided by the district, Amphi bought the land at 450 E. Wetmore Road from Pima County in June 1962 for approximately $31,000. The land had originally been platted for the Roberta Terrace Sub-division.
According to a map of the property, a road and two alleys were also platted but never built.
Todd Jaeger, legal counsel for Amphi, said the road and alleys were supposed to have been abandoned by the county in 1962 so that Amphi could do what it wanted with the land. Records provided by both the county and the city of Tucson indicate that this never happened. Jaeger also acknowledged that he had not been able to find any records indicating the abandonment had ever taken place.
Since then, Amphi has built on the land that the city now says it has right of way to since the property was annexed in 1980.
Jaeger and some Amphi boardmembers said they were perplexed as to why the city would be investigating this particular piece of property.
"Why, after 39 years, are they coming after this piece of land?" said Amphi Governing Board Vice President Mary Schuh. "I just think it's unbelievable."
Jaeger said the district first received notification about the situation from the city about a year and a half ago. The notification stated that the district would either have to buy the land originally platted for the road and alleys or they would have to vacate anything that had been built over it. A portion of the land lab is on the property that would have to be vacated.
The city also mandates that, despite when the land was purchased or for how much, the land has to be bought at current market value. In a letter to Pima County, Jaeger said he estimated the value of the property in question to be between $400,000 and $500,000.
Jim Rossi, the services coordinator for Tucson's transportation department real estate division, said that estimate is not official since the city has not had the property appraised by a licensed appraiser.
Rossi also said the city is looking into the land for a reason. He said the city received an inquiry about two years ago from Pima County Wastewater Manage-ment as to who exactly owned the alley on the property, which is where one of the county's sewers runs.
Rossi said the department wanted to install a site to inject deodorizing chemicals in the sewer.
"It appeared to have been an ideal location for the site," said Glenn Hitz, a civil engineer for the wastewater management department.
The department encountered problems with the district when the district told the department the alleys were abandoned, said Jon Schledweiler, deputy director for the wastewater management department.
Rossi said the wastewater management department contacted his office in order to establish who controlled the alley. Rossi said the inquiry prompted the investigation that led him to discover that the district was using city right of ways without having purchased them.
Some Amphi boardmembers are concerned that the city's motives go beyond wastewater management.
The agricultural land laboratory is in the heart of one of Tucson's largest commercial areas, neighbored by Tucson Mall and Tucson Place shopping center to the north. A Holiday Inn is also slated to be built next door.
"They want that land and they're trying to pressure us. That's what the gossip is," said Schuh. "(The animals) are not always conducive when the wind blows a certain way," she added.
Boardmember Nancy Young Wright said she feels there have been underlying frustrations with developers who want the agricultural farm to relocate.
"They're frustrated that the program is not going to move," she said.
Moving the lab is not just an act of defiance, though, Young Wright said.
"There's no way for us to duplicate this program somewhere else," she said. Options have been looked at in the past to move the lab onto the Amphi High campus, she added, but the program would have to change drastically in order to account for less space.
Jaeger said the district maintains that the property should belong to the district since there were intentions for the road and alleys to be abandoned.
Jaeger also noted that the Pima County Assessor's Office records for the property acknowledge the abandoned streets and alleys, but Rossi said those records are not always reliable and therefore the city isn't accepting those records as proof that an abandonment ever occurred.
According to records on the Assessor's Office Web Site, the property description acknowledging the abandoned street and alleys was created after the property was purchased by Amphi. Rossi said in the time of the sale of the property, landowners could tell the assessor exactly how they wanted their land to appear on assessment records, which could explain why records show there are abandoned alleys and roads on the property.
In an Oct. 3 letter to Jaeger, Tobin Rosen, an attorney for the city of Tucson, said the district has failed to provide enough evidence that the road and alleys were abandoned and must therefore purchase the property from the city.
Jaeger, though, is still protesting the city's action and wrote a letter to County Supervisor Sharon Bronson and County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry asking for their assistance in the matter.
At this point, though, "the ball is in their court," said Hector Martinez, deputy director for the city's department of transportation real estate division, about Amphi.
"They're just not dealing with it," Rossi said. "There is a certain amount of frustration at this point. If you can provide evidence, I'll close this file tomorrow."
Martinez also said it can't be as simple as the city abandoning the property after the fact.
"My guess is, based on the letter from the lawyer, that the city doesn't think that's an option," he said. "But I can't make that decision."
Young Wright said she will urge the board to fight the city's request for the district to buy the land, but if it comes down to paying for the property, she's not sure what the board will decide to do.
"I'll fight it, I think it's wrong," she said. "But I think we would be hard-pressed to come up with that kind of money."