To build or not to build! That’s the question facing McDowell Sonoran Preserve enthusiasts and Scottsdale residents this November.
One year ago, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane said he’d never seen his city more torn apart than over a proposed education center planned on just 5 acres of the 30,000-plus-acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
The controversy appears to be nearing resolution. Two community activist groups have created an alliance to force the issue to a public vote in the form of Proposition 420 this November. Jason Alexander, director of NoDDC – organized before the name Desert Discovery Center was changed to Desert EDGE (Encounters, Discovery, Global Insights, Education) – says if the city had “just put this to a vote, all this animosity goes away,” referring to the city council’s approval of the proposed $61.2 million center near the Gateway Trailhead in far North Scottsdale.
So when did all this fighting start? Rewind 28 years when the non-profit McDowell Sonoran Land Trust, now the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, which does not endorse the current EDGE proposal, formed to stop development in and around the McDowell Mountains. In 1994, the trust successfully created the preserve and, a year later, voters passed a sales tax increase to fund expansion and maintenance of the preserve.
Howard Meyer, president of Protect Our Preserve – which united with NoDDC – concedes that a small education center was discussed when the ordinance was being solidified years ago, but says the current EDGE plans are too commercial. “It will have a gift shop, café and a fully catered event center, so it is a commercial development by any definition.”
Councilmember Virginia Korte, who supports the tax- and donation-funded project, disagrees with Meyer’s assessment. “It’s the icing on the cake for our preserve and [the] billion dollars of taxpayer money we’ve spent on this land.”
As for Prop 420, Korte says it could have “unintended consequences.” The measure does not mention Desert EDGE but instead amends the city charter to essentially guarantee that any construction in the preserve or spending of preserve funds must be voted on by citizens. “What happens if we need to do some wildfire management or flood control? Do we need to wait to go to a public vote that costs $500,000 every time?” Korte asks, referring to special election costs.Next month, we’ll find out who won this round.