LOOKING BACK - MARANA - Tucson Local Media: Import

LOOKING BACK - MARANA

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Posted: Wednesday, January 2, 2002 12:00 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Marana changed its town motto in 2001 from "come grow with us" to "committed to the future, inspired by our past," but the town's booming growth and growing pains drove many of the year's significant events.

A woman who many believe is a walking representation of the town's new motto, Ora Mae Harn, retired from the Marana council in May after 16 years on the dais, including two terms as mayor. A force of nature in regional politics, Harn was a stalwart proponent of the town's expansion. She remains active on town committees and with the Marana Health Center, and has led the charge to preserve the Depression-era cotton gin office on North Sandario Road, which received a reprieve from demolition in 2001. In honor of her service, Marana Park was renamed for Harn at the Founder's Day celebration in March.

Growth drove the bizarre, and so far futile, effort to land a proposed $160 million Hyatt resort at Dove Mountain. The saga began in 2000 when developers Conley and Daryl Wolfswinkel outbid Marana at a state land auction for a 2,400-acre parcel Cottonwood Properties needed as mitigation land to build the resort in the habitat of the federally protected pygmy owl. Marana's fight for the land moved to the Arizona Legislature in 2001, where a bill giving the town condemnation powers failed. In October, the Wolfswinkels sold the land lease to Marana - just in time for Cottonwood to announce it had placed the resort deal on hold because of a downturn in the economy. Marana Town Manager Mike Hein, who has fought with Ahab-like obsession to land the great Hyatt whale, says he's confident the deal will be back on track soon. The resort is expected to pump more than $3 million of tax revenue into the town's coffers in its first three years.

The 1997 federal designation of pygmy owl habitat, which placed building restrictions on a huge swath of Marana, was tossed out by a federal judge in September. The judge ruled that proper consideration was not given to the designation's economic impacts, but upheld the bird's federal status as an endangered species, leaving both environmentalists and pro-growth forces with partial victories. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to return within two years with a new designation, and the judge's ruling held little in the way of tangible relief for Marana, its developers or conservationists.

Continental Ranch received a lot of attention in 2001, with Marana commencing a slew of sorely needed park and road projects. Residents howled over plans for a car wash, Bashas' grocery store and other businesses planned for the area, and the council responded to their traffic concerns by declaring a moratorium on commercial building construction. Plans for a overlay district regulating commercial development are expected to be ready in early 2002. An early peek at a survey completed in preparation to the overlay found Continental Ranch residents holding the contradictory desire for more big box stores and less traffic. A prescient town council had in April already approved development plans for a Wal Mart at Cortaro Road and Interstate 10, and in June, the state's transportation board approved preliminary funding for a new interchange at I-10 and Twin Peaks Road. The interchange, which planners don't anticipate will be completed until at least 2006, is expected to greatly relieve the Continental Ranch traffic snarl.

South Maranans enjoyed another victory when they beat their Continental Ranch Community Association into submission. The association's board quickly abandoned plans to levy a $400 fee against its more than 3,000 homeowners after a large crown of significantly disgruntled residents turned out in protest at an association meeting in October. The fee was to be used for construction of a new clubhouse and offices for the association staff, which fled Marana for rented offices in Casas Adobes two years ago.

North Maranans didn't fare as well as their southern neighbors in 2001. A vague plan by Marana and Pima County to voluntarily relocate the residents of Berry Acres from the Santa Cruz River flood way angered many in the rural neighborhood after they learned the plan was being drafted without their input. The relocation remains stalled by a lack of funds to buy out the residents.

South Maranans and residents of unincorporated Rillito voiced their belief that dangerous pollution from the Arizona Portland Cement Co. is endangering their health. The company was hit with an $82,422 fine in May by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to report the production of toxic chemicals. Residents from the affluent Sunflower retirement community joined the residents of working class Rillito in demanding more information from state regulators on what the plant's stacks are emitting over their neighborhoods.

A survey of town employees at the beginning of 2001 resulted in a number of responses that were vehemently critical of Marana Police Chief David R. Smith. Town officials claimed a handful of police employees loaded the survey with negative comments, which seemed to question the integrity of the town's officers. The intern who conducted the survey said he saw no indications of "ballot stuffing." On a brighter note, the police department received a tentative thumbs up in December for a coveted national accreditation after three years of preparation. The certification is expected to be final in March 2000.

The New West/Gotham Nightclub on Ina Road continued to keep the MPD responding to crimes, including a wild shoot out Oct. 17. More than 40 rounds were fired by at least five different weapons and one person was shot after a rap concert. The owners closed the violence-prone Gotham portion of the huge bar complex, but Arizona Liquor Control was still debating the fate of the New West's liquor license at the end of 2001.

Despite its growing pains, Marana was selected by the United States Conference of Mayors as one of the nation's "most livable cities" in June, it's finances remained strong despite the sagging national economy and a new emphasis on capital improvement projects seemed to bode well for the town's future.

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