March 1, 2006 - Oro Valley's first residents might be happy to learn how much the town values its earliest history and native heritage.
With a new partnership officially in place, the historic Hohokam Indian site in Oro Valley - known as Honey Bee Village - will now be preserved, thanks to the combined efforts of the town of Oro Valley, Pima County, a local developer and the Tohono O'Odham nation.
Creation of the Honey Bee Village Preserve was marked in a ceremony featuring speeches from town and county officials and leaders of the Tohono O'odham nation Feb. 23. An archeologist was on hand to lead a tour of the site.
The new preserve was established to protect what is considered to be the most historically and archeologically important site in Oro Valley. A large Hohokam Indian community occupied the site between 700 AD and 1200 AD, according to archeologists.
Honey Bee Village is located just north of the intersection of Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Moore Road. Archeologists have identified the locations of hundreds of pit houses, a ball court, a walled compound and a central compound on the relatively undisturbed site where developers once intended to build the town center for Oro Valley.
Preservation of the 13-acre village core was made possible through a donation of the land by Canada Vista Homes, which will put the $8 million piece of real estate into the public trust after a final archeological survey is completed this summer and the final plat for the site is approved by the town council.
"The Hohokam picked a nice piece of real estate to settle. On one hand, we have 13 acres of highly valuable real estate, and on the other hand we have an invaluable historic resource that would be plowed over and lost forever," said Steve Solomon, owner of Canada Vistas Homes, the development company that purchased the land last year.
Pima County originally intended to use $1 million in preservation bond funds to purchase the land before its real estate value skyrocketed to $8 million. In exchange for his donation, Pima County has agreed to use those funds to conduct an archeological survey of the land around the Honey Bee Village Preserve to collect any artifacts or Indian remains and clear the way for future development. Solomon plans to use surrounding land for 145 single family homes, 124 luxury condominiums and a 10-acre neighborhood mall to be known as Honey Bee Plaza. The mall will include 90,000 square feet of specialty shops, restaurants and office space.
"(Donating the land) was the right thing to do, and if it's done the right way, it will be an asset to the development around it. People will be buying homes there because they want be a part of the historic site," Solomon said.
Preservation of this site had become a top priority for Oro Valley's leadership, indicated in part by the recent creation of the Historic Preservation Commission tasked with protecting the town's historic sites. In order to manage the Honey Bee Village Preserve and properly integrate the site with nearby development, Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis formed a working group of town, county, Canada Vistas Homes and Tohono O'odham representatives, as well as Honey Bee Village archeologists and experts from the Arizona State Museum.
"This is a day I've waited a long time for. We in the Southwest have a special responsibility to preserve our past," Loomis said. "The history of this site will be very significant for our entire region."
The site is especially significant for the people of the Tohono O'odham tribe who believe the Hohokam are their ancestors.
"We were very touched by what we were able to see here, especially with what you feel here, the spirits you feel here. It's very important for our children to be able to learn about their ancestors," said Vivian Juan-Saunders, chairwoman of the Tohono O'odham legislative council.
Verlon Jose, Tohono O'odham vice chairman, said he believes preserving history will strengthen community ties in Oro Valley.
"One of the most important things is education. If the public is educated in the rich history of the lands, maybe they would respect it more," Jose said.
Loy Neff, program coordinator for the Pima County cultural resources and historic preservation office, said the county has hired a local archeological firm to conduct the survey of lands surrounding the preserve.
"We'll be using bond money for data recovery, and we went through a competitive process to award the contract. Desert Archeology was selected based on the quality of their proposal," Neff said.
William Doelle, president of Desert Archeology, said his company is the same organization that conducted the initial excavation of Honey Bee Village in 1987. He expects that his survey of lands surrounding the preserve will begin within six weeks and will be completed in the summer, although he notes archeological excavations can be long and expensive.
"In archeology, as things develop it gets expensive and takes a trained eye to properly survey the land," Doelle said. His company will use carbon dating systems to identify artifacts or human remains, the latter of which will be repatriated to the Tohono O'odham tribe if discovered, he said.
"This is a community that lasted for hundreds of years, which makes this a very unique site. It's really fascinating, trying to understand how people lived here," Doelle said.
Greg Holt is a staff writer covering Oro Valley and the Amphitheater School District. You can reach him at 797-4384, ext. 116, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.