While it remains to be seen whether Congress will approve the Yavapai Ranch land exchange, the Yavapai County government approved a development agreement with the ranch owners more than three years ago.
While some opponents of the land exchange bill cite the development agreement in their favor, the ranch owners actually would be able to build far fewer homes at the ranch if Congress enacts the bill.
That’s because the Ruskin family now owns about 51,000 acres of the ranch, and the Senate and House land exchange bills both would cut that ownership to about 15,500 acres.
The county development agreement doesn’t give the Ruskins any more homes than they would have a right to build without the agreement.
The current zoning allows one home per two acres, or approximately 25,500 homes. If the private portion of the ranch is reduced to 15,500 acres with the land exchange, the Ruskins would be able to construct only 7,750 homes, or only 30 percent as many.
The land exchange would be the largest in the history of the Prescott National Forest.
In exchange for giving up part of their ranch 30 miles north of Prescott and consolidating the rest into a solid block so the national forest also would be consolidated, the Ruskins would get property in the Verde Valley as well as parcels near Williams, Flagstaff and Prescott.
The bills pending in Congress call for the Ruskins to immediately sell all the land except most of it in the Verde Valley. The buyers would be the cities of Flagstaff and Williams, plus five summer camps south of Prescott and another camp on the Kaibab Forest. The Ruskins couldn’t charge more than the appraised value plus 15 percent.
The Ruskins plan housing and commercial development on much of the Verde Valley land, which has prompted strong opposition from some government officials and residents there who are worried about water supplies.
The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors approved the development agreement in July 2000 on a 2-to-1 vote.
Supervisor Chip Davis, whose district covers the Verde Valley, opposed the agreement especially because it states "the county strongly supports the land exchange."
Like the planning commission, two of the supervisors concluded the 30-year agreement would benefit the county, because the ranch owners would agree not to split up their 51,000 acres into parcels for home sites.
Instead, they and their successors committed not to split up the property into lots smaller than 160 acres unless the county goes along with it. Current zoning allows lots as small as two acres.
In turn, the county agreed to consider a master-planned area development (PAD) on the ranch sometime in the future.
The Ruskins agreed to maintain internal roads, conserve water, and provide public trail access.