Sahuarita Town Council gets its first look during a study session Monday at an updated, more-defined proposal to transform the Santa Cruz River corridor and pecan orchards into a 5,600-plus-acre, mixed-use community.

The group meets at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in regular session, which includes the study session to discuss the proposed, 185-page Sahuarita Farms Specific Plan for zoning of the 5,645 acres of single-owner property within town limits. About 1,100 acres in Pima County jurisdiction is addressed in the separate Continental Farms Specific Plan. Sahuarita's section runs to Pima Mine Road on the north, the town boundary on the south just north of Whitehouse Canyon Road, just west of the river and east roughly to town limits at the widest portion.

The council has seen a broad-strokes vision drafted by representatives of Farmers Investment Company, acting on behalf of pecan farm owners Dick and Nan Walden. This revision incorporates input from the council and attendees from more than 100 presentations given throughout the community to various organizations, businesses, potential neighbors and others.

Now detailed are land uses, development phases and several master plans addressing water/reclaimed resources, sewer and drainage, transportation and – the key component – the river itself.

While the plan draft conforms with town policies, proposed land-use maps and park-acreage standards, and sites have been either dedicated or reserved for schools, library and public services, much consideration has yet to be given to the town's financial responsibility, town officials say.

The majority of the development is contingent upon implementation of costly river improvements, with funding not certain at this point,” a town synopsis notes. Required approval by various state and federal agencies is expected to take years, so no big visible changes are predicted for at least five years, said Sarah More, Sahuarita's Planning and Zoning Director.

Monday's study session will involve the applicant's plan presentation, council discussion and possible direction, however, much more discussion is expected before a final recommendation comes up for council action.

The Waldens are backing the ambitious, ever-evolving proposal to replace pecan orchards with rooftops over the next 50-plus years — a venture projected to use half the water that commercial farming does — to create a visually pleasing village-style communities with homes near schools, parks, retail and workplaces along the river corridor.

If you don't plan for growth, it will plan for you,” Dick Walden said at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Feb. 2, at which the commission, which serves as an advisory group to the council, voted 4-3 to forward a staff recommendation to council favoring plan adoption. The three opposing votes said they felt more time was needed for public review.

There's many considerations yet to cover before town leaders will be ready to grant key go-aheads, officials have said. Some predict months or longer depending on how the negotiations go. They must bear in mind that no one council can bind future councils with its decisions, and want to ensure means by which the plan can be amended down the line as needed to secure suitable infrastructure.

Preceding the council's open meeting Monday is an executive session starting at 5 p.m., in which council will consult with Town Attorney Daniel Hochuli for legal advice pertaining to the plan to allow various land uses, development regulations, procedures and proposed zoning conditions.

A public hearing on the proposal is tentatively set for the town council's March 23 meeting.

Kitty Bottemiller | 547-9732 

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