Will UArizona Sell the Campus Farm to Make Ends Meet?

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From an email from local organizer Bonnie Poulos regarding the Campus Farms Neighborhood Association. Reprinted with permission. -Michael Bryan, editor

BACKGROUND:  Not since the late 1990s, when a developer on the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) asked the University to look into the economics of selling off the Campbell Ave Farm, has the Campus Farm been in so much danger of going down to developers for the “highest and best use”.  At a Town Hall meeting on May 7, 2020 with members of the Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences and Cooperative Extension (ALVSCE), President Robbins admitted that the Campbell Farm was one of the items on the table for finding revenue for the University of AZ.

In those remarks, the President said: I’m told by all of the commercial real estate developers, the most valuable land in Tucson is the Campbell Farms area.  Would we sell that?…. yes, everything is on the table”

That sentiment was reaffirmed as reported in the AZ Daily Star today when President Robbins stated that everything is on the table to help the university through these difficult times: “In his faculty senate comments, Robbins said the university was exploring all options to offset the financial crisis, including selling some of the school’s art collection, selling buildings and reducing administrators. But dipping into the endowment, which topped $1 billion in 2018, is “usually the last step before insolvency and bankruptcy,” he said.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?  If you think that the Campbell Ave farmlands are worth keeping for agricultural use by the University, then we need to get creative in letting the powers that be hear from people besides commercial real estate developers and financial officers.

I have put together some information that you may want to use in developing your strategies for voicing your opinions about the wisdom of selling off valuable land so close to the University, land that was given to the university decades ago for use by the College of Agriculture in support of the University’s land-grant status.

Included in the attachment is a short history of what happened in the late 1990s when the UAZ was asked to justify not selling off their Research Station at Campbell Ave.  Bottom line was that it did not pencil out for sale and development because of the cost of moving research and projects to other facilities, the hydrology of the portion of the Farm west of Campbell Ave. and because of vocal opposition to selling off the Farm by the general public and nearby neighborhoods.

Also, prior to that time, the University sold off much of their fragmented farmland in Pima county to consolidate field and experiment station work at the Campbell Ave location because of its proximity to main campus.  Since that time, the University has constructed several buildings at the Campbell Farm that are used for research and training students, the University has been granted permission to start a Veterinary Medical School (which they decided should be housed in Marana) and there is a growing demand for “food security” measures that include actually growing food locally.

The short-sighted thinking that is being influenced by “commercial developers” would mean a one-time infusion of a few million dollars in cash to the university, and in the process the University would lose this valuable land less than 3 miles from main campus, that will never be replaced.  A worst-case scenario would be that the University is convinced to shelter commercial developers from our zoning laws and from paying property taxes by allowing them to build on the farmland (leasing the land) and calling it “in the interest” of the University.  They just recently did that with land for the Honors College in the North University Neighborhood, so the possibility is very real that we as the public would have no say in what commercial development is put on the site and the taxpayers would not benefit from tax dollars from that development.

I am sending this email out far and wide.  I hope that those of us who live in the Campus Farm neighborhood will sound our voices loud and clear.  I hope that we can rally neighbors who live nearby (in Rillito Bend, Richland Heights East and West, and Limberlost neighborhoods) to add their concerns and voices to the cry to keep the Farm, for agricultural and experiment station work, in perpetuity, which is how it was donated to the university in the first place.

If you know people who work in the College of Agriculture whose research or teaching might be impacted by having to re-locate from the Campus Farm, please send them this email so that they can have their concerns recognized.  I hope we can interest the local news media in carrying this story and letting the university and Board of Regents know that we do not think selling off donations that were given to them to enrich the experience of all of us, for a short-term revenue stream (that in the end will amount to a drop in the bucket) and an irretrievable loss to the university and the community.  We need to remember our history, when all the land in the Campus Farm neighborhood was farmland and horse property.  We want the Farm to continue serving the residents of Pima County, the researchers in the Experimental Stations and the university’s mission to provide for the residents that they serve as a land grant university.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:  If you are a staff, faculty or student member of the university, you can listen to the entire 1 hr long Town Hall meeting from May 7th.

You will have to sign in with your UA netID and password.  The comments about selling off the farm come at around 34 minutes.  If you watch the whole meeting, you will get a good idea of the financial hardships that the university is anticipating as a result of the pandemic, decreased enrollment, and ever-diminishing State funding.  Below is the contact information for the University President, the Dean of the Ag College, a Member of the Board of Regents, and our own Mayor and Council.  Please pass along this information to anyone you know who might be with us in supporting the continued use of the Campbell Ave (Campus) Farm for agricultural uses.

You can read about the value of the Campus Farm to us as a neighborhood, by going to the Northside Area Plan and reading the University of Arizona policies and the Campus Farm subareas.  A PDF version can be downloaded from the City’s website (scroll down to the Northside Area Plan).  For those of you who are new to the area, you may not know that back when the plan was written (1987), there was controversy surrounding who owned the Roger Rd extension east to Tucson Blvd, the City or the University.  It was determined that the University is the legal owner of the right of way and the City’s plans to punch Roger Rd through to Tucson Blvd were abandoned in the next Major Streets and Routes Plan.  Neighbors in Campus Farm and Tucson/Prince (now Rillito Bend) neighborhoods were very pleased with that decision and the University thanked us for our push to keep their farmland from being divided by yet another roadway.

DID YOU KNOW?  Did you know that the University of Arizona (aka Arizona Board of Regents) owns over 900 properties in Pima County?  The commercial developers may be telling the university that the Campus Farm is “the most valuable parcel” in Tucson, but the university could unload many other properties without the significant community impact that selling off the Farm would bring about.  I have an Excel file listing all the properties if you care to see it.

PEOPLE TO CONTACT WITH YOUR CONCERNS:

University President Robert Robbins:

president@email.arizona.edu // 520-621-5511 // PO Box 210021, Old Main Bld #21 , Room 200, Tucson AZ 85721

Vice-President of ALVSCE and Dean of College of Agriculture Shane Burgess

sburgess@cals.arizona.edu // 520-621-7621 // PO Box 210036, Forbes Bld #36, Room 306, Tucson, AZ 85721

Regent Fred DuVal:  Chair of the Research & Health Sciences Committee; Member of the Academic Affairs & Educational Attainment Committee, and Finance, Capital & Resources Committee.

Fred.DuVal@azregents.edu // 602-229-2540

Other members of the AZ Board of Regents can be reached by going to the following website and clicking on the individual Board Members:

https://www.azregents.edu/board/board-members

Mayor Regina Romero: Mayor.Romero@tucsonaz.gov // (520) 791-4201

Ward 1 Council Member Lane Santa Cruz: ward1@tucsonaz.gov // (520) 791-4040

Ward 2 Council Member Paul Cunningham: ward2@tucsonaz.gov // (520) 791-4687

Ward 3 Council Member Paul Durham: ward3@tucsonaz.gov // (520) 791-4711

Ward 4 Council Member Nikki Lee: ward4@tucsonaz.gov // (520) 791-3199

Ward 5 Council Member Richard Fimbres: ward5@tucsonaz.gov // (520) 791-4231

Ward 6 Council Member Steve Kozachik: ward6@tucsonaz.gov // (520) 791-4601

Letters to the Editor:  AZ Daily Star Opinion Page Editor, Sarah Gassen:  sgassen@tucson.com

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