END OF AN ERA? - The Explorer: Import

END OF AN ERA?

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Posted: Monday, May 13, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Long before Marana incorporated as a town in 1977, the rural neighborhoods of Yoem Pueblo, Honea Heights and Happy Acres flourished in their self-imposed isolation amid the desert stretches and cotton fields north of Tucson.

For better or worse, the open space and rustic lifestyles they've enjoyed for decades will soon be in for radical changes. Strokes of fate beyond the neighbors' control, such as the building restrictions in the eastern half of Marana imposed by federal protection of the endangered pygmy owl, and the unprofitability of growing cotton in the fields that surround their neighborhoods, have opened the area for ambitious development plans.

Marana, where the population exploded by 520 percent between 1990 and 2000, drafted the Northwest Marana Plan in 1999 to prepare for the thousands of new homes set to slam into the agricultural regions on the town. The plan, developed after extensive input from area residents, made the preservation of the region's "rural character and agricultural lifestyles" a hallmark of its land use and zoning codes.

But with the first new development set to break ground within a year, residents are already beginning to feel precursor shocks.

At Yoem Pueblo, the tamarack trees that shaded the village for decades have been torn out and a wall is being installed to shield the Native-American community from their future neighbors.

In working-class Honea Heights, where a horse stabled in a side yard or a car up on cinder blocks are a common sight, some residents worry that the new middle-class neighborhoods and golf courses planned next to them will lead to a wave of zoning enforcement in their community.

In Happy Acres, some residents have begun referring to their neighborhood in unincorporated Pima County as "unhappy acres." A sand and gravel pit is planned to the north of them, a huge new subdivision is going in to the south and Marana's aggressive attempt to annex the tiny community has divided the neighbors

Almost uniformly, the neighbors in these communities express mixed emotions about the changes speeding their way.

Their hope is that the glistening new subdivisions they will soon be living cheek-to-jowl with may engender services, such as sewers and competent levels of police protection, that they have lacked in the past.

Their greatest fear is that the freedom to live as they chose may suffer, and their Western lifestyle may vanish.

YOEM PUEBLO

Neither she nor her family are quite sure of her age, but the family consensus is that Martina Lucero is close to 90 years old.

She is a village elder and has lived in Yoem Pueblo, a tiny outpost of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Marana, since she was a very young girl.

Asked about her memories of the village of her youth, she replied with a smile and the sing-song lilt of the Yoem language.

"She said she remembered the tamarack trees were very beautiful," said her grandson and interpreter, Victor Lucero.

Family photos show what Martina Lucero saw then. The branches of the trees drooped almost to the ground, shading dirt roads and yards fronted with white picket fences where bright-faced children played.

The trees that boughed over the community are gone now, the last ones torn out two weeks ago to make way for a stark, slump block wall. When it is completed, the wall is expected to stretch 600 feet long and be six feet high.

The wall will herald a significant change for the 20 or so families that live on the tiny, 4-acre spit of land near Sandario and Barnett roads in rural north Marana. A proposed subdivision across the street is expected to place 180 new homes on 44 acres of what is now a cotton field.

The new subdivision, expected to break ground next year, will be within earshot of the sacred, and often boisterous, cultural ceremonies performed regularly by the Yoem people.

Susan Ong, a real estate developer and a member of one of the earliest farming families in Marana, is hoping to build the as yet unnamed subdivision across the street from Yoem Pueblo.

yet unnamed subdivision across the street from Yoem Pueblo.

The ceremonies, which mark funerals, weddings and various religious dates drawn from the Catholicism that fuses with the Yaqui tribe's indigenous beliefs, often last all night long and involve music, fireworks and chanting, said Felipe Molina, a tribal member and a well known cultural historian of the Yoem people.

"I don't think anyone really wants the wall, but the concern is that the people moving in will be disturbed by the ceremonies and may call the police or complain. These ceremonies are very sacred to us and are an important part of our cultural life and they must be allowed to continue," said Molina.

The Yoem have lived here quietly since the turn of the century, serving as pickers hired by area farmers and helping to build the irrigation canals that went in almost 80 years ago and still trace through Marana's cotton fields.

It was their hands that in 1938 helped mold the adobe bricks of the Producers Cotton Gin that the town is fighting to preserve as a historic tribute to its agricultural roots.

At a Marana Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Aug. 29, commission members unanimously recommended rezoning the property adjacent to the village from farmland to houses, despite tribal members' objections that they had not been consulted on the project.

David Parker, the commission's chairman, said at the meeting he didn't know Marana had a Native American community until he recently had rode in the town's founders' day parade in which the tribe participated in.

The Pascua Yaqui arrived in Arizona at the turn of the 20th century after fleeing their indigenous homeland in Northern Mexico. The Mexican government had waged a decades-long war against the Yaquis that some modern historians liken to a form of ethnic cleansing.

In the late 1880s, forced resettlements of the Yaqui from the state of Sonora to the southern states of Yucatan and Oaxaca spurred the first migration of tribe members into Arizona.

Hundreds of other tribe members perished under a program that placed a price on the heads of Yaqui men, women and children. By the turn of the 20th century, settlements of refugees had sprung up throughout Southern Arizona.

"It was genocide," Molina said. "The Mexican government took their land and the people fled for their lives."

While many of the refugees settled in Old Pascua, which still thrives near Grant Road and Interstate 10 in Tucson, many others moved to camps in the Marana area where work was to be had in the region's cotton fields.

Molina, an elementary school teacher and collector of the tribe's history, said the first encampment was known as Kampo Wiilo. It was established in 1914 near modern day Sanders Road north of Trico-Marana Road by Yoem that included members of the Lucero family.

Also in 1914, a village known as Illi Hu-Pa, meaning "little mesquite," was established near present day Marana Middle School on Grier Road. Members of that encampment and another nearby village moved to Kampo Uno, or Camp number one, on the present site of Yoem Pueblo in 1936, Molina said.

The name Yoem Pueblo, which means the "people's village," was chosen by the village member for the site in 1980, he said.

The early encampments were often provided by area farmers who needed the Yaquis' labor in their fields.

"The people are thankful to the people of Marana, all the early farmers who gave them work and provided them a place to stay in this country," Molina said.

On Oct. 2, the Marana Town Council postponed a decision on the rezoning of the development after learning of the tribe's concerns. A subsequent meeting of the council approved the project, but added four conditions requested by the Pascua Yaqui that the developer will have to abide.

The conditions included the construction of the wall, and the requirement that prospective home buyers be advised that Yoem Pueblo conducts cultural ceremonies nearby on an ongoing basis.

Peter Yacupicio, council treasurer for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said more conditions were needed, and the tribe would continue to work with Marana planners and the developers to protect the Yaquis' way of life.

"We wanted to have the size of the project reduced and to have larger buffers between the development and the village. We have to do all we can to protect the culture and way of life of the people who live there," Yacupicio said.

Kevin Kish, Marana's deputy panning director, said some of the modification the tribe requested "were not realistic."

"There were things like a 300 foot setback (of the development) from Yoem Pueblo that we just would not be able to implement. We tried to work with them as much as we could and address their concerns," Kish said.

Carl Winters, a engineering consultant handling Ong's development, said he believes a compromise will be worked out.

"I think that the wall will help considerably in helping to preserve the tribe's privacy. We're committed to working with them as much as we can," Winters said.

"I don't like it at all," said 30-year old Victor Lucero. "We're going to feel like we're enclosed in. The place is changing a lot. But I guess this is what we have to do to preserve our way of life."

HONEA HEIGHTS

Splotches of the red Pegasus that once adorned an old gas station occasionally peak out from under the layers of new paint on Sam and Flo Anderson's home in Honea Heights, a reminder of a time long ago when progress arrived in Marana.

The Anderson's home was built in the mid-1960s of bricks salvaged from the an old Mobile station that used to stand where now Interstate 10 carries travelers and harried commuters past Marana-Trico Road.

The gas station was torn down, as was much of "downtown" Marana, in 1964 to make way for the new highway. Now, the Andersons are wondering what will become of their tiny neighborhood when a new round of development hits - the more than 2000 homes expected to be built as part of the Rancho Santa Cruz Development.

"People live how they want to out here," said Flo. "My concern is that they are going to look around at some of the junky yards and houses and start making people do improvements or fining them for (zoning) violations. This is a low-to-middle income neighborhood and most people don't have a lot of money."

The Anderson's, like many of the families living in the 200 or so homes that make up the 50-year-old Honea Heights subdivision, have mixed feelings about Rancho Santa Cruz.

The development is expected to break ground in late in 2002 or early 2003, and will be located on 714 acres of what is now cotton field bordering the neighborhood.

The new development expects to sell homes in the $100,000 to $250,000 range. A check of the Pima County Assessors records indicate few of the homes in Honea Heights are valued at more than $50,000, with some properties dipping as low as $20,000.

A common lament from the residents was that small, rural neighborhoods are receiving less attention and service than the larger, more affluent communities such as Continental Ranch do.

"We hardly ever see a police car out here. But if you take a drive anywhere from Thornydale Road to Silverbell (Road) you'll pass plenty of them," said Sam Anderson. "If people in Continental Ranch have a problem, you can be they're going to get attention. That's where all the votes are."

Neighbors were particularly outraged two weeks ago when the town dumped tons of smoldering dirt and debris in their neighborhood. The material, which contained trash that included cans of pesticides, had been cleared from a nearby lot, burned and transported to Honea Heights for use as fill for low-income homes being built in the area.

Town officials characterized the dumping as a mistake, and moved the debris to private property a few miles away from Honea Heights.

"I don't think you would ever catch the town of Marana dumping that stuff in Continental Ranch," Sam Anderson said. "I would hope that they are more careful when they start moving material for the new development coming in"

Many Honea Heights neighbors look forward to improvements that may spill off from the new development. A new sewer system for the community, which has made do with septic tanks, was announced two weeks ago. Officials from the town of Marana have recently held meetings with the residents to hear their concerns that range from speeding cars to increasing crime. A park is being proposed, and Marana has also built six low-income houses in the neighborhood.

But many of the residents fear that the arrival of Rancho Santa Cruz, with its acres of red-tile roofs and golf courses, could mean the end of a way of life they cherish.

Located near Moore and Sanders roads, and wedged between the Santa Cruz River and miles of cotton fields, It's a neighborhood of mostly quaint and tidy houses interspersed with a few squalid mobile homes, some of which would probably be condemned if they faced a serious building inspection.

Horse pens and full-size corrals dot the neighborhood. A front yard on one street is filled with a beautiful garden, while the house next door boast two cars up on cinder blocks set amid an obstacle course of broken toys and beer cans.

A resident who asked not to be named claims he can point out two drug dealers on his street, and around the corner, show you the well groomed home of former Marana Mayor Billy Chiseler and the house of Ray Honea, who developed Honea Heights as Marana's first subdivision and served on the town's first town council in 1977.

"People move out here for a reason," said Sandra Pappas, a registered nurse at Northwest Hospital who moved to Honea heights with her husband Tim and their children four years ago. "It's wide open spaces and for the most part, some really good people. It's the kind of place where if you leave your front door open, as I did recently while rushing out for a family trip, the neighbor calls you up and asks if you intended to leave your door wide open."

Honea, the neighborhood's founder and a self described "Marana Booster," said he believes that the new subdivision next door is a good thing for Honea Heights.

"The town of Marana's been good to us out here. Some of the people swear at them. I swear for them," Honea said. "We're going to be fine out here. Good people, good location, and good weather. How can we miss?"

Honea, now 77-years-old, bought the land from the defunct Cortaro Farm Co. for $25 an acre in the 1950s, getting a good price because he said "the land was too sandy to use for agriculture."

Lots went for $300, and deals were often made on a handshake.

"You got a lot that was 80 by 240 (feet) and paid for it whenever you had the money," Honea said. "People who bought out here didn't have a lot of money and that's kind of the case still."

Les Calavan was a Honea Heights neighbor who badgered Marana officials for more than four years to enforce zoning regulations, bombarding the town with letters that complained of his inability to sell his home because of the "run down appearance of the neighborhood."

Calavan got some response to his complaints. Last year, the town began issuing warning letters to residents with trash in their yards and other violations of the town code code. Marana officials even brought dumpsters into the neighborhood and organized a clean up campaign.

Sadly, Calavan died from cancer in July.

"He always felt that the condition of the neighborhood was the reason he couldn't sell," Phyllis Calavan, Les's widow, said.

Marana Planning Director Joel Shapiro said the town has one full-time zoning compliance inspector who has issued warnings in the neighborhood, and the town has dedicated a lot of time and resources to Honea Heights.

"We know there's a lot of concerns, but in my estimation, Honea Heights gets the same level of attention as any other community in the town," Shapiro said.

But for the Andersons and other residents of the neighborhood, the future remains uncertain.

"We hope we get some attention out here," said Flo. "We hope with this new development going in, that things will be better for the people in Honea Heights, not worse."

HAPPY ACRES

Some folks in the Happy Acres subdivision are unhappy with changes occurring around their rural neighborhood.

"We've taken to calling ourselves unhappy acres," said Frank Bellinger, a homeowner in the small subdivision located two miles west of Interstate 10 off Avra Valley Road.

After 30 years of rural peace and quiet in unincorporated Pima County, the neighborhood of about 200 families now faces the the impending arrival of a massive 2,500-home development known as Saguaro Springs just to the south of the neighborhood, and the prospect of being annexed by the town of Marana.

Another concern for many residents is the expansion of a nearby sand and gravel pit across the street from Happy Acres that may add cement and asphalt manufacturing plants to its operation. The expansion was approved by Marana, the town that also caused a significant jump in the Happy Acres residents' water rates after Marana bought their privately-owned water company.

"It just seems like lately it's one thing after another," said Dan Chavez, another Happy Acres resident. "I came out here to get away from the city. We've had a pretty good lifestyle out here and I kind of wish they would leave us alone."

The neighborhood is a hodgepodge of well-kept conventional houses and mobile homes on large lots in a desert setting. Horse corrals abound in the neighborhood, which besides conveyor belts that run between the Arizona Portland Cement Plant near I-10 and its quarry four miles to the west, sits in relative isolation.

Happy Acres, a designation which is often used to refer to the Happy Acres, Happy Acres II and Milligan's Acres neighborhoods that adjoin each other, has been casting wary glances at the proposed Saguaro Springs development since the idea was first proposed in 1997.

Forrest Metz, president of Urban Engineering, which represents the project's developer, Best Associates, said work on Saguaro Springs is slated to begin within a year.

When completed, Saguaro Springs will sprawl across 790 acres between the Tucson Mountains, Airline Road, Lambert Lane and Twin Peaks Road, and abut the 170-acre Happy Acres subdivision.

Some residents of the neighborhood are also less than happy with a plan they believe Marana has to turn Airline Road, a narrow two lane road that runs through the neighborhood, into a an access point for the new development.

At a public hearing on the annexation issue held by the Marana Town Council in March, Marana Development Services Director Jim DeGrood told residents that rumors that Saguaro Springs traffic would be routed through Happy Acres was "inaccurate."

But a Dec. 28 e-mail from DeGrood to Mike Reuwsaat, Marana's assistant town manager, noted that "Airline Road would be overlaid between Avra Valley Road and Lambert Lane in conjunction with Saguaro Springs."

DeGrood was out of town last week and was unavailable for comment.

About 100 residents who turned out for the public hearing seemed to be about evenly split as to whether they want to become Maranans.

"I"m all for it if it will get us some decent police protection," said resident Dan Corterno. "The (Pima County) Sheriff's Department takes more than an hour and a half to respond when you call them or they don't respond at all."

Marana will need to obtain signatures from more than 50 percent of the property owners living in Happy Acres and signatures from residents or businesses that own more than 50 percent of the property in the subdivision.

As of May 5, the town had received about half the signatures it needs to annex the area.

"We're up to about 20 percent of the property owners and about 24 percent of the value, so it's still a long way away, said Reuwsaat. "The town council wants to make sure we get a lot more than 51 percent to make sure it's what people want. Our annexation committee will be meeting in the next couple of weeks to see where we go with it from here."

Wayne Childs, pastor of the Marana First Assembly of God church in Happy Valley for the last 13 years, said during the public hearing that he saw both good and bad in the annexation and was unable to make a decision.

In an interview almost five weeks later, Childs said he remains torn.

"I could see where we might get better service from the Marana Police Department, and anything would probably be better than dealing with Pima County. But in the end, I'm not sure what Marana's motivation is for the annexation and that's a bit of a concern," Childs said, adding that some of his animosity toward the county came from sparing with their zoning officials over the height of the church's sign.

Reuwsaat said he believes Child's comments are typical of what he's hearing from the residents.

"Those that are in favor of the annexation cite police protection primarily, that's the big one, and people want access to parks and recreation services. People opposed are saying they like the status quo and aren't sure if there is enough reason to come in," Reuwsaat said.

The town has a year from the public hearing in March to collect the signatures it needs in order for the annexation to proceed.

Reuwsaat said he remains optimistic that the required amount of neighbors will sign the petition.

"What we traditionally do is let go for a while, and then send out a second mailing.

There are people who have contacted us said they would canvas the neighborhood to get signatures, so there is some substantial support for this," he said.

The significant land use change the New West Materials Co. needed to expand its sand and gravel mining operation was approved by Marana April 12.

Under terms of the land use agreement, which also existed when the business operated in Pima County, New West would be allowed to operate asphalt and concrete manufacturing plants on the 150-acre site.

Bellinger said the New West operation has deflated his property values.

"If I want to sell with these jerks across the street, I'm basically screwed. This has lowered my property value. I went in this year (to the Pima County Assessor's Office) to appeal after I received my statement. My value dropped from $100,000 to $80,000 because the guy at the assessor's said I was now across from an industrial operation," Bellinger said.

Adding to Bellinger's wrath was a jump in water rates after the town of Marana purchased the privately-owned Marana Water Company in 1997.

Bellinger said his rates took an immediate jump of 70 percent after Marana took over.

Marana Water Utility Director Brad DeSpain said he thought 70 percent sounded somewhat high.

"My understanding was that the rate jumped probably less than 50 percent," DeSpain said. "We had to charge the new customers in Happy Acres a rate comparable with that which we charge our other customers in our service area, and the Marana Water Co. had not had a rate increase in a very long time."

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