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School, town land swap off the table
Written by Staff Reporter   
Wednesday, 04 April 2007 13:33

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Camp Verde Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Van Handel and his governing board thought they had a great idea — take over the 7-acre Butler Park, which sits smack up against CVUSD property and will soon be in need of much renovation. In return, the district would give 10 acres of parkland near the Verde River in the Simonton Ranch development.

Camp Verde Town Manager Bill Lee said that in retrospect, he didn’t see a clear advantage for the town.

“The way I looked at it is we get a little bigger park, but there were more advantages for the school district,” Lee said.

The 10-acre site is land the school district has rights to going back to pre-Simonton days.

Developer Scott Simonton, who said he is a booster for public schools, said he felt he had given the town many commitments: reducing the density of Simonton Ranch almost by half, donating land for a new library, committing to pay for the widening of Finnie Flat Road and committing at least $1 million toward completing the sewer system.

For Simonton, agreeing to a high- density elementary school in what he plans to be a retirement age-oriented community didn’t really make sense and was one concession too many.

Van Handel said that a park in Simonton Ranch would potentially connect to adjacent parklands and trails, including a possible environmental museum. So Van Handel saw a park as a win-win-win situation, for the district, the town and Simonton.

After talking with Lee and laying out the advantages he saw for all parties, Van Handel asked Lee to take the temperature of the Town Council on the idea in an executive session.

Van Handel said he had hoped that Lee would be able to list the contemplated land swap as a vague agenda item, drawing little public attention, allowing the council to hear from Lee and Lee to get back to Van Handel, before a full public discussion of the pros and cons.

But Lee said that what Van Handel had envisioned wasn’t possible under state open meeting laws.

With Van Handel out of town on the night of the March 21 Town Council meeting, and with a conflicted relationship between Mayor Tony Gioia and Lee added to the mix, Gioia and Lee apparently had a limited pre-council discussion of the agenda, the agenda item, stood little chance of bringing about a hoped-for meeting of the minds.

Simonton came up from Phoenix, saying he was unaware of the idea or that it was on the agenda until an hour before the meeting. He asked that the item be tabled, after saying he had no desire to have anything to do with the dissolution of Butler Park.

Gioia asked how the item came to be on the agenda and if there were any representatives from the district present.

Lee said Van Handel had asked for the agenda item, and gave no indication that he knew anything more about it.

The item was unanimously taken off the agenda.

Lee said that the tabling of the private discussion of the land swap probably told Van Handel all he needed to know: the council wasn’t interested.

According to Lee, Camp Verde would do better to focus on larger community parks, rather than smaller neighborhood parks anyway.

Van Handel said if the town has no interest in the land swap, he is prepared to move ahead with a school plan for the 10 acres within Simonton Ranch.

Van Handel also said he is willing to discuss a lower-density high school on the site that would offer classrooms and possibly computers for use by Simonton Ranch residents, in an effort to make the school an amenity for those residents, rather than an albatross.

Simonton meets with Van Handel on Wednesday, April 4, and said he was withholding any comments until after the meeting


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