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Annexation request raises community concerns

SIERRA VISTA —Sierra Vista’s city chambers had a large audience on Thursday’s city council meeting, with many members of the community there to address an annexation request of two couples in the Village Meadows Ranch subdivision, a five-acre county enclave in the city.

Ricky and Nicole Williams and Gilbert and Robin Gil both reached out to the city to request to be annexed in.

Per the city’s annexation policy, once an individual or multiple property owners request annexation, the city gauges the interest of adjacent property owners. During that process, two additional properties in the enclave also requested to be included.

As required by state law, the city filed a blank petition with Cochise County. The meeting on Thursday was the first public hearing on the item and about half a dozen residents addressed the council during the call to the public.

Overall, residents of the enclave expressed a deep sense of community, love of a rural setting, concerns about the annexation process itself and fear that annexation would come to the enclave whether they wanted it or not.

None of the public who spoke supported the annexation request. Resident Anne Ballinger implored those requesting the annexation of their individual properties to withdraw the request.

“Our neighborhood is very diverse, though very cohesive, and we have residents still working, others retired, educators, business people, military, health care professionals, some married, some widows, some divorced, some single, and we look after each other,” Ballinger said.

“We all made very considered decisions when we purchased our properties and we are not only financially invested, but emotionally invested.”

“We enjoy a rural lifestyle convenient to the city and we don’t want any roads put through, street lights, sidewalks, or other changes and improvements to our neighborhood and lifestyle,” she added. She said many of them are private, almost hermits, and they like it that way.

Another resident, Douglas Behnke said he does not want to live within city limits because he sees “undesirable consequences living in the city’s jurisdiction.” He also said the majority of residents feel the same way.

“There are some 40 plus residents within Village Meadows Ranch Estates mostly dispersed on two main streets — Camino Rancho and Camino Real — and they’re both streets (that) dead end,” he said. “Having the two streets dead end makes it an ideal subdivision for family activities.”

“All the lots are coded as rural, suited for horses, and it’s most desirous to keep the coding and dead end streets because it’s the attraction and character of Village Meadows Ranch,” he added.

Several residents brought up concerns with the annexation process, claiming they heard the city had used “high pressure sales” techniques to push people and had even heard that residents were asked to sign a form of intent of some kind to annex.

Community Development Director Matt McLachlan said that is not the case, stating that no one was asked to sign such a document.

Mayor Rick Mueller also reiterated the annexation process that he helped to spell out about ten years ago, because of some of the issues and concerns mentioned at Thursday’s meeting.

The policy for annexations is that when a resident reaches out to the city to request annexation the city will then talk to adjacent neighbors to see if there is interest from any other residents, he said. The reason the city approached residents of the subdivision was only because they had received a request.

Thursday’s hearing was the first part of the process and the council voted unanimously to continue to the next step of annexation. Affected properties will receive a petition on July 17, the end of the required 30-day wait time after filling a blank petition with the county.

“An annexation requires the consent of the owners of at least one-half of the value of the real and personal property and more than one-half of the property owners in the territory to be annexed,” according to the resolution.

During the meeting the council also continued budget decisions including the property tax levy, which will be voted on July 25. The city recommends lowering the tax rate from $0.1136 per $100 of assessed valuation to $0.1124.

Check Sunday’s Herald/Review for more coverage on the budget discussion, the property tax levy and financing.

Construction materials dumped on historic land at Camp Naco

NACO — For the last couple of years, contractors have been placing construction materials on a small parcel in Camp Naco without permission, and the practice may have harmed the delicate soil at the site, an anthropology instructor who advocates for the camp said.

The trespassing was discovered earlier this week when Cochise College instructor Rebecca Orozco — who is also a member of Friends of Camp Naco — and new City of Bisbee Public Works Director Jesus Haro, were touring the area.

The dumping of construction materials on the parcel — which is adjacent to small buildings that once served as officers’ residences — may have disturbed the ground there “in ways we’ll never be able to recover,” Orozco said.

Both Orozco and Haro spotted mounds of sand and aggregate base — commonly known as AB — had been left on the property. Bisbee took ownership of Camp Naco last year from Huachuca City.

Orozco said the piles had been there for a while, but because of constant change and turnover in Bisbee city government, nothing could get accomplished at Camp Naco.

Haro, who joined the city in April, said he would allow Northern Pipeline — the contractor who left the sand and AB piles at the property — to finish their job and then the department will place at least two signs advising that Camp Naco is a historic site that belongs to the city.

“The piles of dirt have been growing and this is the biggest I’ve seen them,” Orozco said. “This is a national historic site of national importance.”

She explained that the soil around the buildings at Camp Naco — which dates back to the Mexican Revolution — could hold objects dating back to the time when the U.S. opened the border outpost to protect the country from Mexican invaders.

“No one should be using that,” Haro agreed, referring to the parcel.

Ignacio Bustamante, a contractor with the Tucson-based Northern Pipeline (NPL), said earlier this week that the company was under the impression that it could use the parcel because they thought it was owned by Arizona Water.

”This has been going on a long time,” Bustamante said. “We were just under the impression that we could do it. If there had been a sign out there prohibiting it, we would not have done it.”

Arizona Water Division Manager Frank Cabello said the company does not even service the Camp Naco area. He said he is not familiar with anyone telling NPL that they could use the site.

Regardless, no one will be using it after next week, and that is a relief to Orozco.

”The fact that Bisbee has taken over the Camp is an incredible thing and very appreciated,” Orozco said. “Its been the first time we’ve been able to make things come together.”