Wildcat subdivisions a major problem in Baja Arizona

Major public service and land use problem are growing like a cancer in southern Pima County and other areas of the state.

Called ”wildcat subdivisions” these land “developments” evade virtually all subdivision requirements due to an exemption in state law that allows a land owner to split his property into 5 pieces without going through the subdivision process review.

In Pima County many of these “wildcat subdivisions” have been designated as “colonias” to make them eligible for federal assistance.

Here’s how the “wildcat subdivision” process works:

A landowner has a 40 acre parcel and splits it up into 5 eight acre parcels and drills a well, giving each parcel a share in that well.

Because there are not initially 15 connections or 25 people being served by that well, it escapes any review or approval by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality or the Pima County DEQ down here to make sure the well is adequately sized, there’s enough water storage, the mains are sized right to serve the residents, and that the water is safe to drink. No 100 year assured water supply proof is required, either.

Typically a road easement is recorded against the 8 parcels on their edges. A  minimal dirt road is bladed in to the area, with no storm drains so whenever it rains, the lots are inaccessible. Sometimes the easements are no correctly recorded, creating confusion over who has the right to the road where.

The owners of the 8 split parcels then each split their lots 5 times. The shares of the well are similarly split. Now the well will come into ADEQ or PCDEQ jurisdiction, but no provision has been made by anyone to upgrade the water system to serve 40 homes.

The lot owners get a permit to put a septic tank and leach field on their lots, get an electric and phone line extended to them, and move in. Usually the lots are occupied by a mobile home.

At some point the homeowners find out their well and water system is totally inadequate to serve the number of residents in their area and face stiff fines from ADEQ or PCDEQ to upgrade the water system. There is usually no mechanism by which they can raise thousands of dollars to do this, and they usually don’t have the money to do this.

Meanwhile, the roads serving their property were not constructed to county standards, so the county will not maintain these roads. The residents have no mechanism to raise money to maintain these roads, or to construct culverts so they can get in and out of their homes during storms.

The dream of a  rural lifestyle the homeowners sought turns into a rural nightmare.

Efforts have been made repeatedly to stop the creation of “wildcat subdivisions” and regulate lot splitting.

These efforts have always failed due to opposition to the real estate industry who make big bucks from selling these unimproved lots. The owners of the lots who engage in “wildcat subdividing” as their business oppose tougher regulations because they would have to fork over lots of money to build good roads and put in decent water systems. Rarely does the Arizona Department of Real Estate go after regulated real estate agents who indulge in lot splitting, and many of the lot-splitters are not even subjectto Dept. of Real Estate jurisdiction.

Part of the problem is county subdivision standards, especially in Pima County, are urban in nature. Paved roads and sidewalks are required and a host of other amenities that people who want a rural lifestyle don’t want. There is no rural subdivision option.

What is needed to stop the spread of “wildcat subdivisions” are a series of approvals that must be gained before a lot split can be approved by a county to ensure adequate facilities like water and roads are provided. These include:

–any well that is going to have more than one owner and serve more than one family MUST be subject to ADEQ or PCDEQ approval to assure that the well and water system is constructed to be able to serve the maximum number of connections that will be allowed on the well and water system.

–any well or water system that is going to serve more than one family MUST have a recorded agreement clearly granting ownership in the well to all co-owners, with recorded easements for water lines and an enforceable agreement to assess co-owners for operating costs, maintenance, and improvements to the well and water system.

–anyy well or water system that is going to serve more than one family must have its water quality tested periodically.

–no increase in the number of connections to the well after initial approval shall be allowed without proof that the well and water system is sized adequately for the additional new connections.

–all road easements in the area must be a minimum of 24 feet wide.

–all roads must have sufficient drainage to allow all weather access to the lots.

–all roads must at least have chip and seal pavement to avoid dust pollution.

–there must be a homeowners association with the responsibility to maintain the roads and assess co-owners of the road for maintenance costs.

–no lot shall be allowed to be sold unless it has a valid perc test showing a septic tank and leach field is feasible on the lot.

The key to being able to enforce these requirements is to not allow any kind of building permit or mobile home installation on a lot which is not served by a well and water system that has been approved, where the road requirements have not been complied with, and where there is not a valid perc test.

This does not stop people from being able to split lots….but it would stop people from profiting from splitting lots without providing for the minimum facilities like water and roads so someone could actually live on those split lots without suprise costs and problems after they buy the lot.

For more information on the wildcat subdivision  colonia problem:

http://www.hcn.org/issues/177/5738

http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0123colonias0.html

http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/the-skinny/Content?oid=1067822

http://www.pima.gov/CED/Data/documents/DraftPimaCounty2010AnnualActionPlan.pdf

http://www.hud.gov/local/az/groups/coloniasaz.cfm

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About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
This entry was posted in environment, hugh holub, tucson history, tucson lifestyle, tucson politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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