Craig Emmerson was quite surprised at the news that greeted him Thursday morning.
The managing member of Maricopa 240 LLC had negotiated the sale of a portion of his family land to Maricopa Unified School District for a second high school. When the district announced Wednesday night that the process had come to a screeching halt, Emmerson was confused about the reason.
The partnership of Anderson Palmisano Farms did not sign a required pesticide covenant for its property next door. That effectively halted the purchase of the property.
Maricopa 240 was selling about 65 acres for $45,000 per acre.
“I don’t know the Andersons, and certainly want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but there are several things here that don’t add up, so we’ve decided to dig a little deeper,” Emmerson said.
That includes making a public records request to the Arizona Department of Agriculture.
Kelly Anderson, managing partner of Anderson Palmisano Farms and former mayor of Maricopa, had spelled out in May his objections to a school being built on Emmerson’s agricultural land on Murphy Road. At Wednesday night’s meeting of the governing board, he said the letter was intended to be read into the public record at the time it was sent, but it was instead considered in private executive session. He read the letter into the record at Wednesday’s meeting.
Torri Anderson, Kelly’s wife, sits on the MUSD Governing Board. In April, she recused herself from the land selection process because Anderson Palmisano Farms had been in the running. Since then, she has criticized the selection of Emmerson’s “Cortona” property.
On Wednesday night, she said the Anderson Palmisano property offer was rescinded in February.
The Anderson farm was established in 1949. Last year, the partnership had a portion of the property off Hartman Road rezoned as medium density residential in anticipation of a master planned community. Another segment of the property off Bowlin Road initially had been offered for sale to MUSD for the future high school at $55,000 per acre.
“I can’t imagine they would refuse to sign the form if their site was selected,” Emmerson said of the pesticide covenant, “and it would be more than a little naïve for them to think they could use dangerous pesticides next to a school, if it was.”
Kelly Anderson could not be reached for comment.
But Emmerson doubts dangerous pesticides are in use anyway. He came to that opinion after consulting with farmers and farm experts who said “toxic and odiferous pesticides” have not been in general use for many years.
“This area is quickly developing, and, in fact, I understand their (Andersons’) property may be under option to a developer, so if they’re using dangerous pesticides, it’s certainly time to stop,” he said.
Emmerson said he does not want to back the Andersons into a corner. What seemed an 11th hour refusal to sign a vital piece of paper may have also been an 11th hour request to the Andersons after months of no communication from MUSD. He said the covenant did not preclude the use of all pesticides.
The Emmersons also have 480 acres slated for residential development as part of the Cortona property. The portion offered to the school was in the northeast section of the property.
The Sorrento subdivision is directly west of Anderson Palmisano Farms, and Tortosa has more homes planned north of the farm. The Volkswagen test facility is directly east. The Anderson property is a rectangle bordered by Hartman, Bowlin, Murphy and Farrell roads.
The current proximity of residential and industrial/commercial as well as nearby Desert Wind Middle School makes Emmerson further question the existence of dangerous pesticides.
And that, he said, makes him wonder if not signing the covenant had little to do with agricultural necessity.
“It’s also hard to imagine that Mrs. Anderson would sit through months of meetings about the new high school site and watch the district spend a great deal of time and money on this effort, to refuse to sign a form at the 11th hour that other farmers have been happy to sign,” Emmerson said.
Restarting the land search is expected to cost the district at least $2 million more than the Cortona property.