Fears that Mesa is moving to annex state trust land in Pinal County have prompted Apache Junction Mayor Doug Coleman to attempt to grab some of the real estate for his city.
Coleman's effort is the latest development in what is shaping up to be a fierce border dispute between Mesa, Arizona's third largest city with 400,000 people, and Apache Junction, Pinal County's largest city with 35,000 people.
Coleman confirmed he will meet next month with the Arizona Land Department, the agency that controls more than 200 square miles of undeveloped state trust land in northern Pinal County. The land lies just east of Mesa and Queen Creek and south of Apache Junction and has major potential for development.
Coleman said he wants to convince the state to allow Apache Junction to annex a 30-square-mile section of state trust land bordering the city to the south. The tract also borders Mesa, and the move would effectively shut the door on any future annexation by Mesa, preventing it from expanding into Pinal County.
"We want to talk to (the state land department) about what their requirements for services will be, and what we need to do to be prepared to provide service to the area," Coleman said. News of the meeting surprised Mesa City Manager Mike Hutchinson.
"We'd like to be involved in any discussion with state lands (department) or any other entities," Hutchinson said. "It's an important issue for the whole southeast region. We ought to work cooperatively."
Coleman said Mesa is not invited to the meeting.
Officials gave conflicting dates for the meeting, but agree it is on track. Coleman initially said it was Feb. 20, but later said he was mistaken and didn't give another date. Deputy state land commissioner Richard Hubbard said the date is March 7.
"The bottom line is they're coming in to talk about all these issues," Hubbard said Wednesday. However, Hubbard said it is premature to talk about annexation because the area has not been planned. He said he expects planning to take place during the next year.
Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith, D-District 2 of Gold Canyon, whose district includes the land, said she will attend the meeting. Smith opposes Mesa annexing into Pinal County. She has helped circulate more than 800 petitions to Pinal County residents against Mesa spilling across the county line.
Smith said Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker has made conflicting statements about his intentions.
On one hand, the mayor has assured her Mesa won't annex unless invited by Apache Junction and Pinal County officials. However, in a letter Hawker sent to Smith in January, he sent a different message, she said.
"He said we all need to sit down and decide," Smith said. "He's got two conflicting statements out there and that concerns me."
Hawker was out of town Wednesday and not available for comment.
The Tribune reported in January that Mesa, at the urging of Maricopa County
Supervisor Don Stapley, R-District 2 of Mesa, was studying a plan to annex a large portion of the vacant state land. Stapley said that Mesa was the only city in the region with enough resources to oversee development of the area.
That report raised the ire of Apache Junction and Pinal County officials, and caused Hawker and Stapley to backpedal on their stances on the issue.