A block of south East Valley land larger than Mesa could become the model for quality urban planning if state, county and municipal leaders put aside their differences and focus on common goals, speakers at a pro-growth forum said Wednesday.
The "Growing Livable Communities Forum," sponsored by Salt River Project and the East Valley Partnership, featured a diverse panel of government officials who vowed to cooperate in the development of 385 square miles of largely pristine Pinal County land southeast of Apache Junction.
"This block of land stares at us every day as the largest opportunity for development," Arizona Land Department deputy director Richard Hubbard said of the area, known as Superstition Vistas, about two-thirds of which is state trust land.
Much of the discussion, held before a crowd of real estate professionals and community leaders, centered on proposed trust land management reforms that several panelists said they support.
Apache Junction Mayor Douglas Coleman said the changes would help free up 19,000 acres south of the city that have been tied up in a flood control easement dispute.
"We’ve been bottlenecked and haven’t been able to work with anybody on that land," said Coleman, whose city has been trying to annex the land.
Mike Ellegood, Maricopa County director of public works, said he has been working closely with the Land Department on a solution to Apache Junction’s annexation problem, but he would not give details.
Panelists also urged regional cooperation to ensure future growth in the south East Valley is predicated on proper drainage, adequate water supply and other key infrastructure requirements.
Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith, D-District 2, said she hopes involved parties recognize the county’s desire to keep a rural lifestyle and control its own fate.
Mesa City Councilwoman Claudia Walters reassured the other panelists that her city has no plans to annex the Pinal County land in question, but she asked that Mesa have a say in how the area is developed.
"We think the best thing we can do is sit at the table and help with the planning," Walters said.
Panel moderator Grady Gammage Jr. said Superstition Vistas represents a chance for government to succeed in regional planning where it has failed in the past.
"We don’t have a real good history here of regionalism, and it’s too bad," Gammage said. East Valley officials will meet regularly on the issue and are working to fund a $750,000 regional study, he said.