The Treasure of Spur Cross Ranch

In 1996, a developer and the ranch's owners announced plans to build a golf course and a residential/hotel development at Spur Cross Ranch. Because the ranch holds significant Hohokam Indian ruins and a rare riparian area, preservationists and environmentalists were alarmed.

Cave Creek annexed Spur Cross and additional land, bringing the land under the town's stringent zoning ordinance. The owners sued, and the matter remains in the courts.

Several options have been explored for preserving the ranch. Arizona Senator John McCain has championed only one, a complicated three-way trade put together by consultants for the developer, involving federal lands, state trust lands and the Spur Cross Ranch. The trade would require federal legislation, which McCain has promised to sponsor if it's agreed to by Cave Creek, Scottsdale and Carefree. Only Scottsdale has balked.

The map below indicates the particulars of the proposed deal.

1. Spur Cross Ranch
Description--Rugged desert hills that some say are not developable, ancient pueblos with petroglyphs, and a rare, year-round stream; located at north end of Cave Creek, bordering on Tonto National Forest.

Now--Slated for resort/golf course/residential development. Tied up in zoning lawsuits.

Proposed--Would become part of Tonto National Forest. Archaeological and environmental features of Spur Cross Ranch would be spared. Ranch owners would get a tract of equal value. But managing Spur Cross would be problematical for the U.S. Forest Service. And no one knows the real value of the ranch.

Owners--70 percent interest: Great American Life Insurance, owned by Ohio-based Chiquita Banana CEO and campaign funding angel Carl Lindner. 30 percent interest: Herbert Dreiseszun and his family trusts. Local developer John Lang says he'll purchase the land for development--if it gets proper zoning.

Area--2,250 acres
Value--Estimates range from $9 million to $40 million. No appraisal has been made public.

2. Federal Land
Description--North of Stagecoach Pass. Some consider it a wasteland or dirt-bike paradise, but enviros say it's a key part of a larger ecosystem that supports a variety of wildlife.

Now--Part of Tonto National Forest
Proposed--Would be ceded to current Spur Cross owners for development by Lang. An attractive trade for Spur Cross owners with less restrictive zoning, but vast populations of flora and fauna would be put at risk. In 1994, Scottsdale asked the U.S. Forest Service to remove the tract from its list of lands for exchange.

Owners--The People of the United States of America
Area--3,000 acres
Value--Presumed equal to Spur Cross Ranch, subject to appraisal.

3. and 4.
AZ State Trust Land
Description--Undeveloped desert lands
Now--All state trust lands are mandated for sale to raise funds for schools.

Proposed--Both parcels would become part of the Tonto National Forest. The AZ State Trust would receive unidentified federal lands. The land in question is among the most expensive of all of the AZ State Trust lands.

Owners--The People of the State of Arizona
Area--Total of 6,490 acres
Value--Parcel 3: no estimates; Parcel 4: estimated $150 million

5. Mystery Federal Lands
Description--Unknown, but, since the land would become marketable AZ State Land Trust property, it's likely the state would prefer land near cities or available federal buildings, which would promise the greatest yield when sold. The uncertainty is feeding the rumor mill--statewide.

Now--No parcels have been identified.
Proposed--Unidentified land parcels will be ceded to AZ State Land Trust to be sold, most likely for development. The high value of the state lands being exchanged dictates the federal acreage of equal value would be huge. Questions abound as to which business interests may want such huge areas made available for development.

Owners--The People of the United States of America
Area--Anybody's guess, and conjecture runs rampant. Estimates run anywhere from 20,000 to 300,000 acres of federal land being converted to commercial use.

Value--Subject to appraisal of State Trust lands.