Posts Tagged ‘Marana’

Updates from the El Rio Riparian Preserve

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By Janine Spencer-Glasson, Friends of El Rio Preserve

The Santa Cruz River serves as an important resource for migrating birds in the southwestern United States. Migrating birds depend upon riparian habitat more than any other type of habitat in Arizona. There are several links along the chain of stopovers for migrating birds on the Santa Cruz River. One of them is the El Rio Preserve in Marana. To date, over 240 species of birds have been identified at the Preserve (go to ebird.org and search in Hotspots for El Rio Open Space Preserve to view the complete list of birds).

El Rio Preserve is a 104-acre property located along the western bank of the Santa Cruz River. The site has a long history of human use; it is located at the northern end of the Los Morteros Archaeological site and was occupied from approximately 850-1,300 AD. In the 1960’s, a gravel pit was created there to provide material to build Interstate-10. Later, it was used as a disc golf course. In addition to the Preserve’s role in providing bird habitat, the Preserve also serves as a link between the Tortolita Mountains and the Tucson Mountains, allowing wildlife to access water and move about.

West Lake of the El Rio Preserve in May 2019. Photo By Janine Spencer-Glasson.

This site has flooded periodically over the years, and water tends to remain ponded for six months or more, with periods where it is completely dry. This has created intermittent habitat for birds that need a site with surface water. Throughout this time, birders knew the spot as the “Coachline Gravel Pit.” Occasionally some interesting avian species would appear, including blue grosbeak, grey hawk, peregrine falcon, white-faced ibis, osprey, belted kingfisher, Bell’s vireo, Inca dove, and hooded orioles, to name a few.

An Indigo Bunting at the El Rio Preserve. Photo by Andrew Core.

During a major rainstorm in 2014, the soil berm was breached between the gravel pit and the Santa Cruz River, and water filled the property almost completely, creating a beautiful lake and much buzz among people familiar with the area. Rare birds showed up, like the white-fronted goose, a white pelican, and plenty of ducks. Birders flocked to see the new lake’s avian inhabitants, and the parking area often hosted out-of-state vehicles. This prompted the Town of Marana to take a new look at what was now called the El Rio Preserve.

There were many problems at the Preserve, however. During storm events, invasive weed seeds and huge patches of trash would flow in and settle in the basin. Mosquitoes would breed where water remained under spots of dense vegetation. Much planning and work was needed to create a riparian site that would be an amenity to the neighborhood, while maintaining a natural state for birds, wildlife, and nature-lovers.

Improvements at El Rio Preserve have been a collaborative effort. The Town of Marana dedicated funding for design and implementation of riparian restoration. The Arizona State Forestry Department researched the area and wrote a comprehensive Forestry Management Plan that focuses on invasive species. Pima County and Marana extended the Loop Trail and constructed a parking lot with a ramada. Marana worked with a University of Arizona student, Alex Stoicof, to create a community survey, which identified riparian restoration as the top priority for the Preserve. She then designed a preliminary landscape plan. Marana has constructed a viewing deck, a water fountain, toilet, and interpretive signs, and planted native landscaping

Environmental education is an important element of the El Rio Preserve. Michael Bogan, Professor at the University of Arizona, has led a damselfly and dragonfly viewing and provided information and photos for an interpretive sign at the Preserve. The Town is coordinating with the Marana Unified School District and classes of students have toured the site and focused on science relevant to their studies. Boy Scouts have volunteered, putting up bee boards and bird boxes for kestrels and brown-crested flycatchers.

Birders at the El Rio Preserve. Photo by Andrew Core.

Tucson Audubon Society supplied plants and members helped plant a pollinator garden at the entrance to the Preserve. Bat Conservation International provided agaves and helped volunteers plant them. This spring, the pollinator garden was in full bloom, with butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees enjoying the gaillardia, penstemon, native salvias, desert marigolds, and other flowers.

The pollinator garden at the El Rio Preserve in Spring 2020. Photo by Janine Spencer-Glasson.

The Friends of El Rio Preserve group has been formed to include neighbors and a diverse group of members from other environmental organizations. Friends of El Rio Preserve’s mission is “to promote wildlife habitat and connectivity in this beautiful, diverse natural area, so residents of all ages and interests can enjoy this urban oasis,” and we have planted pollinators, helped with weeding, and provided input on design elements and on interpretive signs. If you would like to learn more about Friends of El Rio Preserve, you can find us on Facebook or Instagram. You can become a Friend if you are willing to roll up your sleeves, join the team, and make a vital contribution to enhancing and protecting El Rio Preserve; contact Kathy at matproject@msn.com or Janine at janines07@comcast.net.

It has been wonderful to see so many organizations and volunteers work to create a beautiful spot for people and birds!

Currently, more improvements are underway. Pima County Flood Control is in the early stages of constructing bank protection which will cost nearly $1.9 M (nesting bird and archaeological surveys have been completed prior to ground disturbance).  The bank protection is designed to allow overflow connectivity with the Santa Cruz River during large rain events. Bank protection should be completed by this fall. There is currently no water flowing into the Preserve while bank protection is being constructed.

This fall, Marana will construct a connection to purchase water from the Cortaro-Marana Irrigation District and create a permanent pond approximately 5 acres in size. The Town is currently in the process of building an island to provide a safe place for birds to wade and rest once the pond is filled. The Friends of El Rio Preserve looks forward to assisting with pole planting native trees such as cottonwoods and willows and seeding other native annuals and perennials on the island.

Come visit El Rio Preserve once construction work is completed – you will be surprised at this lush natural site in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.

Raccoon tracks at the El Rio Preserve. Photo by Janine Spencer-Glasson.

Tortolita Preserve protected in new Marana General Plan

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Good news for conservation in Marana!

On December 10, 2019, the Marana Town Council approved the new draft Marana General Plan with a few major changes we requested. This includes 1) solidifying the long-term protection of the Tortolita Preserve and 2) removing a “Special Planning Area” from lands southwest of the Tortolita Preserve so these lands will remain low density if they are ever developed.

Thank you to all the community members that showed up and voiced their concerns about these issues over the last couple months, including the newly formed Tortolita Alliance! Our voices can make a difference!

If you’d like more information, you can read our full comment letter that we submitted to the Marana Town Council on December 9, 2019 and our previous comment letter submitted to the Marana Planning & Zoning Commission in September 2019. The full draft Marana General Plan is available on the Make Marana 2020 website

You can also read two media stories about the Marana General Plan and the future of the Tortolita Preserve published in December 2019, one from Arizona Public Media and one in the AZ Daily Star

What’s next for the Marana General Plan?  Marana voters will get to vote on this new General Plan in August.

ACTION ALERT: Comments needed on draft Marana General Plan!

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The Town of Marana is currently accepting public comments on its new draft General Plan – will you send the Planning and Zoning Commission a quick email today and comment on this important planning document? You can send your comments to Marana staff member Cynthia Ross at cross@maranaaz.gov

If you’d like to access the full draft Marana General Plan, it can be found HERE

We’ve drafted some talking points below if you want some guidance on what to say. We know these types of planning documents can be cumbersome and time-consuming to review. However, they are really important in how they inform local government decisions around issues such as protecting open spaces and wildlife linkages; guide the locations of new developments and roads; and shape how our communities plan for future growth. 

THANK YOU for using your voice to protect open spaces and wildlife in Marana!

SUGGESTED TALKING POINTS FOR THE DRAFT MARANA GENERAL PLAN:

1.  The Tortolita Preserve needs to be identified on all Town maps. The General Plan is a 10-year document and there is an 81-year period left in the lease agreement. If the Town feels that it cannot be labeled “Preserve” due to perceived requirements dictated by the Arizona State Land Department, then the land should be, at a minimum, delineated on maps and labeled as “Open Space Park.”

2.  Given the investment that the Town of Marana has already made into a variety of environmental planning documents (such as a Draft Habitat Conservation Plan, the Tres Rios del Norte Feasibility Study, the Santa Cruz River Corridor Study, and the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan), the Town should be developing its proposed Open Space and Wildlife Conservation Plan concurrently with the General Plan. Resource protection and conservation need to be integrated with land use plans, not viewed as an unrelated goal or addendum. 

3.  Wildlife connectivity open space across Tangerine Road needs to be protected and buffered. Wildlife crossings have been installed along Tangerine Road at public expense (by the Regional Transportation Authority) and need to function as they are intended. Without adequate buffers, wildlife is unlikely to use these crossings. In addition, Prospect Wash wildlife connectivity across Tangerine Road and Moore Road needs to be preserved as Natural Undisturbed Open Space and buffered appropriately. In addition to Tangerine Road, open space is necessary across Moore Road in order for wildlife movement to continue to the Tortolita Preserve and on to the Tortolita Mountains.

4.  Various maps, including Future Land Use and Future Circulation, depict a new interstate, Interstate 11, running west of the Tucson Mountains. Given the current planning timeline for Interstate 11 and the fact that a Preferred Alternative Route has not been chosen, please delete the route and both spurs back to Interstate 10 from these maps. The construction of Interstate 11 is well outside of the planning horizon for this General Plan, whether Interstate 11 ends up being built as an I-10 bypass west of the Tucson Mountains or at all. 

5.  While many of the implementation actions listed in the Resources and Sustainability tables, if adopted and followed, will help mitigate the on-going effects of climate change, an action should be added that will “develop and implement a Climate Resilience and Emergency Readiness Plan.” 

Feel free to use any or all of these talking points in your comments, or use them as guides and put them into your own voice. 

PUBLIC HEARINGS

The Marana Planning & Zoning Commission is holding a public hearing on Wednesday, November 20, at 6pm at the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Dr, Marana, AZ, 85653. Please consider attending in person and giving your comments verbally. Each person will be given 3 minutes to speak. 

The Marana Town Council will also be holding a public hearing on Tuesday, December 10 at 6pm at the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Dr, Marana, AZ, 85653. Again, each person will be given 3 minutes to speak. If the Town Council approves the draft General Plan at that meeting, it will then go to Marana voters for approval. 

Our full set of comments that we have submitted to the Marana Planning & Zoning Commission can be found on our website HERE

Thank you again for using YOUR voice on behalf of the people and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert. 

Coalition comments on proposed changes to the Tortolita Preserve

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These mule deer and coyote are using new wildlife underpasses under Tangerine Road. Three more wildlife underpasses such as these are planned for western Tangerine Road. The Coalition hopes any changes to the Tortolita Preserve ensure connections with future wildlife underpasses and nearby core preserve areas such as Tortolita Mountain Park. Photos courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Arizona State Land Department and the Town of Marana have recently begun discussions about changes to the Tortolita Preserve. This 2,400 acre preserve was established in consultation, as required by the Endangered Species Act, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as mitigation for habitat disturbance and effects to listed species resulting from the construction of the Dove Mountain development. 

On October 9, 2019, the Coalition submitted comments to the Town of Marana with our recommendations on how to move forward with the future of the Tortolita Preserve. We recommend that any changes ensure the connection of the preserve with nearby core preserve areas and planned future wildlife crossings. 

The full text of our comments can be found HERE.

 “Marana negotiating Tortolita Preserve’s future” – Tucson Local Media (October 16, 2019)

Neighbors, conservationists closely monitor what’s next in Marana” – KOLD13 (October 18, 2019)

We’ll be updating this post as we learn more or there is additional news coverage on this issue. 

Lazy K Bar Ranch proposal is back on the table

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April 27, 2017

The Lazy K Bar Ranch development proposal is back on the table. On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, the Town of Marana Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of a new development proposal for the Lazy K Bar Ranch property, with Commissioner Marcia Jakab dissenting. The Marana Town Council rejected a similar proposal two years ago. 

In 2014, the owners of the Lazy K Bar property submitted a development proposal to Marana to construct 178 homes on the historic site and the Town Council rejected the proposal twice, both in late 2014 and early 2015. Councilmembers who voted “nay” cited concerns about the historic nature of the property and the density of the homes. There was also a large opposition from neighbors, Saguaro National Park (which lies only a 1/2-mile away from the property), and local conservation groups. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection ended up supporting the project at the last minute after receiving concessions from the property owner in regards to a larger buffer around the property, assurances that no riparian habitat would be impacted, and details about native plant protection. Our main priority was protecting a significant wildlife corridor on the property that is part of the larger threatened wildlife linkage between the Tucson Mountains and the Tortolita Mountains. 

This time around, the development proposal still involves the construction of 178 homes. Unfortunately, new elements of the project will infringe more on natural washes. We are in opposition to the proposal as it stands now. As Coalition Director Carolyn Campbell stated in a recent AZ Daily Star article, “We’ve been clear about what the wildlife needs. If they can provide that, we’re OK, but so far we haven’t seen it.” 

Now that the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission has made a positive recommendation about the proposal, the Marana Town Council will make a final decision about the proposal on May 16, 2017. 

To learn more, check out the official Marana staff report about the project, which includes the full development proposal, here

For an AZ Daily Star article from April 23, 2017, head here.

For an AZ Daily Star article published after the April 26 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, head here

For an AZ Daily Star article published on April 28 announcing the May 16, 2017 Mayor & Council meeting when a final decision will be made, head here

For a KVOA news story that aired before the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting that has some beautiful footage of the Lazy K Bar property, head here

And for some history on the failed proposal from 2014-2015, check out this AZ Daily Star article

If you want to express your opinion about this development proposal, send an email to the Town of Marana Town Clerk at clerk@maranaaz.gov

Thank you for supporting responsible development and the protection of open spaces and our critical wildlife linkages! 

Update: For the Coalition’s recommendation letter to the Marana Town Council on May 16, 2017, head here. The Marana Town Council did approve the Lazy K Bar Ranch development on May 16, 2017. However, we were also successful in advocating for the inclusion of an Open Space Covenant in the proposal and the protection of an important wildlife linkage area on the property.