Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Development draws closer to Casa Grande ruins

[Source: Brian Indrelunas] -- As a boy, Raymond Deazey hunted rattlesnakes and picked up arrowheads in the desert around the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. "It was all vacant, and we used to ride our motorcycles and all that stuff through here," the Coolidge native said. Now 49, Deazey returned to his former stomping grounds recently - to visit the dentist. The dentist's office is in a growing commercial zone directly across from the entrance to the monument, site of a 700-year-old structure called the "Great House." Today, the remains of an ancient Hohokam farming village face strip malls, restaurants, a drugstore, an auto-parts store, a supermarket and a Wal-Mart Supercenter. With new residents flooding into Pinal County, Coolidge, once a small farming community, is expanding around the 474-acre monument. Subdivisions are sprouting up just south and west. One development would put 1,700 homes in the square mile directly west of the ruins. One of the monument's new neighbors is Michelle Brimley, who said her family was priced out of the Valley. She can see the ruins from her kitchen window.

"My kids, when we first came here, called it the alien house," she said. "We've taken them over there quite a few times and tried to explain to them that it's not a saucer." The Great House is covered by a steel-and-concrete canopy built in 1932 to shield it from the elements. Chief Ranger Carol West said the monument is becoming an island in a sea of development. West said she visited the monument as a child, which made driving to the park in 2003, after she was offered her current position, a shock. "I nearly died," she said. "I remembered it being way out of the way - a sleepy place." West said housing developments near the monument threaten the ruins' desert backdrop. Monument staff members hope to annex 80 acres directly west of the current boundary line that are slated for the Cross Creek Ranch master-planned community. They also hope to annex some other sites, including unused land surrounding the Wal-Mart. "It's not just the archaeological sites," she said. "The context in which the Great House is built is in danger too."
U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, whose district includes Coolidge, introduced a resolution in March 2005 that would have authorized an expansion of the monument, but it died in committee. [Note: To read the full article, click here. ]