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By Susan Johnson
Larson Newspapers
 
As the city of Cottonwood pursues its sudden grab for 10 square miles of state land, all of it within the Cornville Community Planning Boundary, questions are being raised as to the motive.
It’s well-known locally that the city considers itself the economic hub of the Verde Valley, home to several big box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
But those retail operations are situated in the center of the city’s commercial district, within walking distance of some surrounding neighborhoods and easily accessed by tractor-trailers coming in on State Route 260 from Interstate 17.
The property the city wants to annex is across the Verde River and miles north of that existing commercial corridor, a still-wild area populated by pronghorns and unsullied by signs, strip malls and cookie-cutter sports bars.
It was only four years ago that the Cornville Community Association won the Governor’s Award for its comprehensive plan for that property which is entirely within Cornville’s 55 square miles of lush riparian valleys, desert ridges and mesas.
The plan was publicly accepted by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors.
Additionally, in 1998, every principal community in the Verde Valley signed a resolution that each should be kept separate, not growing together as a result of needless sprawl.
Today, Mayor Diane Joens and City Manager Doug Bartosh, both representing the city of Cottonwood, are pushing aside those considerations, asserting their municipality is the only one capable of managing the development of the state land and therefore justified in its annexation.
“It’s going to be developed unless the laws of the state are changed,” Bartosh said. “Do we want it developed in a well-managed fashion or a wildcat fashion?  We just want to make sure that whatever is done is in the best interests of Cottonwood. We can do a much better job of this than the county.”
As an unincorporated community, Cornville cannot annex the state land itself, however, its leaders have a long-standing, mutually cooperative relationship with Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis and the county’s planning and zoning committee, according to Judy Miller, past chairman of the Planning Committee for the Cornville Community Association.
“Our main mission is to work cooperatively with the county; every sort of waiver and proposal comes to us for review and comment,” Miller said. “We’re not the decision-makers, but we regularly include provisions to be put into permits or proposals.”
Deanna King, current president of the Cornville Community Association, and Miller were among those present at the first of a series of stakeholders meetings held by Cottonwood.
“This annexation affects everyone [in the Verde Valley] whether they think it does or not,” King said.
As a result of that meeting, King and Miller worked with members of their association — a mixture of residents, businesses and property owners — to draft comments on the annexation for Joens.
King and Miller explained there are five key concerns:
n Commercialization of State Route 89A.
n Pattern of growth.
n Conservation of scenic values.
n Roads and trails.
n Water protection.
Within each of those categories, the association further defines its objections and recommendations.
In its discussion of State Route 89A, “Heavy commercial or industrial areas are not appropriate in this rural residential setting,” the letter reads. “Cottonwood [already] had its industrial era when smelters denuded the landscape. Another approach must be found.”
According to Miller, “The whole subject of transportation contains implications for this piece of ground that are worrisome. We’re on a beautiful river — in a beautiful valley — this isn’t the right place for commercialization.”
If Cottonwood succeeds in annexing the land, the Cornville Community Association wants to see as much as possible of it preserved as open space.
However, Bartosh said there are others who don’t.
“The people who want to see it preserved aren’t the only ones represented — there are some people who want to see houses, who want to see stores. There are realtors, developers, people who make their living out of those folks who come to town,” Bartosh said.
More information on the annexation can be obtained on the city of Cottonwood’s Web site, www.ci.cottonwood.az.us.
The Cottonwood City Council met Tuesday, May 5, to offer further direction to city staff. Comments from Tuesday’s meeting were not available at press time.
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