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A meeting between Cottonwood and Clarkdale scheduled for June 3 to discuss Cottonwood’s bid to annex a second large parcel of land was abruptly canceled by Cottonwood city staff last week.

In addition to the 10-square mile parcel of Arizona State Trust Land that the city of Cottonwood wants to annex, the city has its sights set on annexing a second piece of property — this one an eight and a half square mile parcel of U.S. Forest Service land.

The Forest Service land shares a common border with the trust land, its eastern boundary traversing part of the trust land’s western boundary.

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A public hearing was held by Cottonwood to announce these intentions on Oct. 8.

At the time, Diane Joens, mayor of Cottonwood, said that in view of annexations by neighboring cities, it seemed advisable to acquire the land and that the council favored keeping the land as open space.

Red Rock District Ranger Heather Provencio spoke against the annexation, warning that the action would reduce the value of the land.

She added that the parcel contains threatened species in addition to being adjacent to Tuzigoot National Monument.

Mayor Doug Von Gausig of Clarkdale also spoke against the action, presenting a letter to Cottonwood council requesting further discussions with Clarkdale and with other regional groups to allow their input.

Following that hearing, members of Clarkdale’s government repeatedly sought a meeting with Cottonwood to hear a presentation from the Forest Service regarding the impact of annexation vis-a-vis future development of those lands.

Last week, Von Gausig offered additional background on the situation.

“The Town of Clarkdale feels strongly that annexation of Forest Service lands increases the likelihood of trades to private entities and encourages development of those lands,” Von Gausig said. “When Cottonwood announced that they intended to annex approximately eight and a half square miles of forest lands just east of Clarkdale, they stated that their intent was to maintain those lands as open space. At a special Cottonwood City Council meeting in October, the councilors unanimously stated that the desire was to see the land remain open space in perpetuity. At that same meeting, Heather Provencio, district ranger for the Coconino National Forest, told the council that annexations of forest lands made those lands more likely to be traded to developers than if they remained outside municipal boundaries. That fact seemed to put the annexation of the land at counter-purpose to the goals of Cottonwood’s council.”

Von Gausig also said that Clarkdale’s council feels these lands need to remain open space in perpetuity. “We believe that one of the special aspects of the Verde Valley is the amount of open space and the high proportion of public to private lands in our valley. We do not want to do anything that might encourage conversion of forest land in the Verde Valley to private, development property,” he explained. “For those reasons, and because we felt that the only logical reason Cottonwood would want to annex these particular lands was because it would preclude Clarkdale from ever doing so, we offered an intergovernmental agreement guaranteeing we would not annex the lands. We felt that the offer of this agreement would put Cottonwood’s council at ease, and provide them some assurance that the land would remain open space.”

The draft agreement states that neither Cottonwood nor Clarkdale will annex these lands for a period of one year and it would automatically renew each year, but could be unilaterally canceled by either party, with the following very important proviso: In the event either party cancels the agreement, Clarkdale would agree unilaterally not to attempt annexation of the land for a period of 60 days after the cancellation.

Von Gausig said the agreement essentially gives Cottonwood a 60-day “first right of refusal” to annex the land if the agreement is ever canceled.

“We feel that this is a fair agreement that accomplishes both councils’ stated goals of preserving open space, and at the same time, gives Cottonwood the assurance that a future City Council could control the annexation in the future, if they so desired.

“While Clarkdale understood that the staff and leadership in Cottonwood had agreed to an agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, and that they had agreed to consider the agreement described above, apparently there were some communication gaps, and they felt their only choice was to cancel the meeting until their mayor and I could get together and agree explicitly on an agenda that both councils are comfortable with,” Von Gausig said. Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh said there are no issues between Cottonwood and Clarkdale that caused the meeting to be canceled.

“There was a mix-up on the agenda,” Bartosh said. “Some of our council wanted more time and an opportunity to discuss the idea of an IGA and our mayor was going on vacation. We will reschedule after the mayor returns from vacation.”

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