The Yuma Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday held the first of two public hearings on a request to change the land use designation of Arizona State Land parcels for future development, a plan that has drawn the ire of outdoor enthusiasts.
The area is 1,673 acres and located at the northwest corner, northeast corner and southwest corner of Fortuna Road and 24th Street and the northeast corner of Fortuna Road and Highway 95.
The primarily desert and undeveloped land is currently used by off-roaders. Farmers lease adjacent state lands, which is not expected to change.
On behalf of the Arizona State Land Department, Yuma is requesting that the land use designation of the state parcels be changed to the “Special Use–State Land” designation in the city’s General Plan.
A staff report explains that the intent is to set aside an area for future development in the city of a mix of residential, commercial and industrial components. It would be developed in accordance with an adopted plan, but a specific plan has yet to be developed.
The city hopes to incorporate the State Land parcels into the General Plan during a 2021 update. This would allow staff to identify future roadways, parks and other public service and utility needs for the future residents and businesses in the subject area.
Staff noted that development density is yet to be determined but will likely be similar to Foothills residential development in the south and commercial/industrial in the north. The city anticipates no more than 7,000 residential units to be developed.
The city has received several comments in opposition, with some included in the agenda package and others handed to the commissioners. The Yuma Sun was unable to obtain the additional comments before the publication deadline.
Principal Planner Jennifer Albers told the commissioners that most of the concerns revolved around access to desert riding activities and impacts to nearby industry. She noted that a plan would be developed with the concerns of citizens in mind.
David Hardin of YuCo Gin submitted a comment in which he expressed concern about encroachment on cotton gin operations and noted that the gin already receives dust and lighting complaints from Mesa del Sol residents. He said that the company worries that more development will lead to more complaints and they do not want future development to impact the jobs and operations at the plant or the economic contributions of the cotton industry to the community.
Barry Olsen of The Gowan Company also expressed concern with encroachment on company operations.
A handful of citizens spoke during the hearing, some to express their opposition, others to ask questions. However, Chairman Chris Hamel clarified that the purpose of the first hearing was to solicit input from the public and the commission could not discuss the issue.
A major General Plan amendment requires two public hearings. The second public hearing will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 in the City Hall Council Chambers.
Anthony Marten questioned whether the state approached the city with the idea and if the state planned to auction off the land. Hamel reiterated that they couldn’t answer questions until the next meeting. A staff member explained that the first hearing wasn’t the “time for a back and forth” and suggested he talk to staff outside the meeting.
Michael Callahan of Gowan Milling said that the proposed action failed to recognize other industries in the area that could be affected. He added that the new land use designation would affect operations of existing businesses and hundreds of workers and might force his company to relocate.
John Dailey, who identified himself as a farmer who leases state land, said he fears that the proposed plans would “put a whole bunch of jobs in jeopardy.”
Gonzalo Zaragoza asked to submit a petition called “NO to Fortuna Dunes development” that has been circulating online. It had about 1,000 signers as of Tuesday. He noted that the area is used on a daily basis and not just seasonally.
The petition points out that “this desert area has been an essential part of the Foothills and the Yuma community. It has been the public recreational area for hiking, off-roading in our sand toys and ATVs, hunting, fishing, and general outside enjoyment.”
The petition urges people to tell Yuma “No, they cannot have our playground” and invites them to sign the petition “if you want to protect our Fortuna Dunes from future development and banning our UTVs (and) ATVs.”