The two Red Rocks - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

The two Red Rocks

I-10 separates old from new in region destined for heavy development

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Posted: Tuesday, August 5, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:03 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

In Carol Dayton’s neighborhood the houses are few and far between and residents tend to keep to themselves.

“It’s not a real friendly area,” said Dayton, a seven-year resident of Red Rock, a sprawling community that stretches from Picacho Peak State Park to the Tortolita Mountains.

“It’s nice. So far everyone’s polite,” Bill Lewellen, a newer resident, said of his area of Red Rock.

Lewellen spent last Friday afternoon watching his three grandchildren play in a neighborhood pool.

These two, divergent views typify feelings in the two halves of Red Rock cloven by Interstate 10, which might as well be the Continental Divde.

On one side is the rural “Missile Base” area, so named because of the Cold War relic found at the end of a road of the same name. On the other is the site of the planned 3,964-house Pulte development.

All of Red Rock’s residents live in unincorporated Pinal County, which likely won’t change even as the area grows.

“At this point there’s too much distance between communities,” said Lisa Woehieke, the postmaster at the Red Rock Post Office.

Although this particular post office has been in existence since 1988, the federal government has delivered mail to the area since 1887, when homesteaders were the only ones living between Tucson and the recently chartered Phoenix.

The new Pulte development has begun to transform a once-rural enclave into another Southern Arizona suburb.

Little more than a week ago, the Pulte subdivision added a water park to its list of amenities.

The lure of Red Rock can be seen in the price of housing.

A three-bedroom, two-bath house in the new community sells for $133,400.

A similar three-bedroom, two-bath Pulte house in the Rancho Vistoso area of Oro Valley starts at $303,990, according to the builder’s Web site.

As with most new developments, houses often come long before commercial hubs do.

Residents must drive dozens of miles to get groceries, either north to Eloy, or south to Dove Mountain or Continental Ranch in Marana.  

The area, though, is expected to become a major growth area thanks to a proposed Union Pacific railroad yard, Pinal Airpark and Marana’s own ambitious economic development plans, according to the 2008 Pinal County Comprehensive Plan.

“This growth area is designed as a true mixed-use residential and employment node that will serve as a critical link between southern Pinal County and northern Pima County in the Sun Corridor,” the plan reads.

The linchpin of Red Rock’s growth is the proposed rail yard.

The controversial Union Pacific switching yard would stand east of Interstate 10 and south of the Picacho Peak area.

At 914 acres, the yard would provide a place for cargo containers to be shuffled between trains.

In June, Gov. Napolitano signed a bill requiring a public hearing before the construction of large projects like the rail yard.

While the $200 million yard itself may be years in the offing, the name of the game is how to siphon money away from more developed areas.

“How do I take California businesses away from California?” Union Pacific spokeswoman Zoe Richmond asked rhetorically.

Rising fuel costs have led to a shift from hauling cargo by truck and toward transit by train, Richmond said.

In the future and thousands of miles away, a new seaport planned in Baja California could have some bearing on Red Rock’s development.

By making the agricultural area of Punta Colonet the largest port in Mexico, transporting cargo through the Picacho area could become commonplace.

Union Pacific has pushed for the port, with an eye towards running trains from Mexico though the company’s lines in Red Rock and Tucson.

Dayton said most of the people on her side of the interstate remain vehemently opposed to the rail yard and wary of the noise and pollution it might bring.

“A lot of it is still virgin desert,” she said of the terrain.

She’d rather see the area slated for the rail yard developed as a solar array.

For her, the appeal of the area not only was its low cost of living, but also desert solitude.

Perhaps so many have come to Red Rock for the same reasons the area was settled in the first place, suggested resident Brenda Engelby. “(It’s) a chance to be part of something new — pioneers.”

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