Gila County supervisors approved the key first step in the sale of 21 acres to the Rim Country Education Alliance for a four-year university, despite objections by several community college board members.
“I didn’t want the supervisors leaving thinking the sale is done,” said County Manager Don McDaniel.
“This is not in their (Alliance) ownership after today. It may take weeks or months to complete.”
Although some details remain, the agreement does not include the reduced acreage and restrictions on use of the land proposed by the Gila Community College board.
This disappointed GCC board members Tom Loeffler and Larry Stephenson and their supporters.
“What we want is that this land will be used for educational purposes. We are concerned about outside commercial uses. We ask for a deed restriction,” said Stephenson.
From the beginning of the negotiations for the sale of the remaining 20.863 acres of land east of the Gila Community College, the two board members raised concerns that have caused delays.
A resolution they wrote postponed the signing of the intergovernmental agreement from Dec. 6 to Dec. 20. This lag reportedly eliminated a chance for the Alliance to present its plans to the Board of Regents in December, forcing a delay until at least February.
The GCC board members had asked the county for more land for the school’s own use, an educational purposes only deed restriction, a new appraisal and right of first refusal if the Alliance had to sell the land.
The revised agreement does give the county the right to buy the land back if the deal for the university falls through in the next three years and did boost the purchase price to $600,000.
On Tuesday, the only objection point Loeffler and Stephenson continued to press involved whether to include a restriction limiting the use of the land to educational purposes.
“I think in our resolution, the two phrases that are sticking points: only used for educational purposes and opposes industrial uses. There’s a large difference between the two,” said Loeffler.
Four other supporters attended to speak on behalf of the deed restriction.
Shirley Dye had reservations based on rumors.
“Rumors abound that that property is zoned as commercial. These purposes must be worked out,” she said.
Joan Bergman, a Graham Ranch Road neighbor to the future four-year university, had concerns something as disruptive as a sawmill could be built in the name of education. Loeffler and Stephenson had a similar concern.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has previously said current plans call for placing phase one of the university on 10 acres and using the other 11 acres as a research park or an incubator center, which helps turn university research into commercial products.
Both Loeffler and Stephenson have said those developments would serve an “educational purpose,” but other things like a solar cell assembly plant would not.
“Creating a better solar panel is different than manufacturing a solar cell,” said Stephenson.
Despite the objections of the GCC board members and supporters, the supervisors approved the agreement.
“Any new idea always has questions. If we throw up roadblocks and say we need to understand every detail this will never happen. We cannot micro-manage how that four-year university will be built,” said Supervisor Shirley Dawson.
Supervisor Michael Pastor said he had received several e-mails about the issue, but felt the agreement McDaniel and the staff negotiated with the Alliance would address any future issues.
The terms of the intergovernmental agreement recognize:
— That both the Alliance and Gila County have an interest in supporting the creation of a four-year university for the benefit of the county.
— That the purchase price for the property would be for 100 percent of the appraised value or $600,000.
— That if the Alliance failed to enter into an agreement with a four-year university within three years, the county had 90 days to buy back the property at the original purchase price.
McDaniel said some of the details remaining include filling out the proper deed paperwork and receiving the money. He also cautioned the Alliance might have other actions to complete, such as a new appraisal, prior to completing the purchase.
That prompted Dawson to say, “One of the concerns I have in buying property is that I get queasy when more conditions are attached. If the SLE (Alliance) wants a title search, who will pay for that?”
McDaniel admitted staffs on both sides still have a lot of work to do before the sale completes, the intergovernmental agreement is simply the first step.