Mark Edelman, AICP
Planning & Engineering Section - Real Estate Division
The Planning Section assists the Real Estate Division in matters related to entitlement issues, general plan amendments, and the Five Year Plan. The Five Year Plan is very important as it prioritizes and charts the Department’s sales and leasing activity for the next five years based upon planning, engineering and marketing principles.
Under the “Growing Smarter” legislation, the Planning Section, in accordance with State Statutes, conceptually plans urban Trust lands throughout the state. The Section also collaborates with both counties and municipalities on planning issues, including but not limited to scenic corridors, zoning text amendments, environmental ordinances, impact fees and other issues impacting the value and development utility of State Trust lands and advancing the mission of the Trust. For more information on the Department of Commerce Office of Smart Growth, visit www.azcommerce.com/SmartGrowth/Home.
Planning, along with the Engineering Section, works on large Development Master Plans. It also works with developers seeking to include Trust lands in their own master planning efforts. This not only entitles the Trust land but also results in unified master planning allowing for sustainable development.
Annexations and incorporations impacting Trust lands must be approved by the Department before these actions can be finalized by a community. Planning coordinates this review process and makes recommendations to the State Land Commissioner and the State Selection Boards on these proposals.
Additional FAQs for the State Land Department
The Engineering Section provides engineering and hydrologic support to the Department; including performing infrastructure, drainage and environmental assessments; technical review and comments on applications; navigable stream determinations; and Colorado River ownership and boundary determinations.
The Engineering Section is comprised of professional engineers, water resource specialists, and a geographic information specialist, under the supervision of a section manager. Most of the staff is housed in the Department’s Phoenix location, but two are employed at the Southern Arizona Office (SAO) in Tucson.
The duties and responsibilities of the Engineering Section are as varied and wide ranging as the purposes to which the state’s land is used. Any use of state trust land (STL), be it a master planned community, commercial center, or something as minor as the temporary planting of an advertising sign, is evaluated for its impact, both negative and positive. An assessment of a negative impact to the use, or future use, of the land may result in either a request to alter the plan or a refusal of permission to site the project at that location. In addition to STL, the Department also serves as steward of the public’s interest in its sovereign lands in navigable rivers and streams. Always, the objective is to allow the land to be used for the highest and best use in order to maximize the revenue from that particular use to the benefit of the state’s beneficiaries, most commonly the public schools and universities.
State Trust Land (STL)
With nine million acres of trust land across the state, it is difficult – if not impossible – to locate a major highway or utility transmission line without crossing STL. Likewise, a drainage master plan for a particular county or city more than likely will include STL within its basin study. In these cases, the responsible government agency or private entity must apply for a right-of-way (ROW). A member of the Engineering Section will review the ROW application and technically evaluate project specifications to ensure limited negative impact, before communicating his / her approval in writing to the administrator handling the application.
Parcels considered for disposition undergo a constraints analysis to determine if there are issues with the property that might reduce its full development potential. The Engineering Section considers slope (hilly or flat) and drainage (streams, washes, levies, floodplains, etc.) in determining developable acreage. An infrastructure assessment is conducted to examine the availability of wet utilities (water and wastewater) and dry utilities (electric, gas, and phone lines). Also considered are environmental constraints such as archaeological and cultural resources, and an assessment of the flora and fauna for rare or endangered species. Washes are field walked and appraised for qualification as jurisdictional waters of the United States and for riparian habitat. By the time a parcel of land is ready for auction, many if not all of the required clearances have been obtained from the proper authority, such as: a 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers demonstrating minimal impact to washes, a Conditional Letter of Map Revision for floodplain delineation from the Federal Emergency Management Association, and / or archaeological clearance from the State Historic Preservation Office.
The Department also has a seat on the Statewide Water Quality Management Working Group. This advisory committee to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s Surface Water Permits Unit, reviews area wide water quality management plans for compliance with Section 208 of the Clean Water Act. Presently, the Department’s seat is filled by an engineering staff member.
Colorado River Sovereign Land Program
The Colorado River was a navigable waterway at the time of statehood. As such, the bed of the river is considered state sovereign land, and is held in trust for the public. By legislative statute, the Department administers all laws related to lands under control of the state. Revenue generated through the disposition of sovereign land is deposited in the state’s General Fund.
A fact sheet on the state’s sovereign land is available as a hand-out at the Department, and is reproduced here at this link: Colorado River Sovereign Land Program.
Navigable Streambed Program
The beds of rivers, streams, and lakes that were navigable at the time of statehood qualify as sovereign lands under the public trust doctrine, and are to be administered by the state to maintain public use for fishing, navigation and commerce. The Colorado River through Arizona has already been determined navigable. Currently, the Department is seeking a determination that other major waterways in Arizona are navigable, including the Upper Salt River, the Lower Salt River, and the Verde River. The Arizona Navigable Stream Adjudication Commission (ANSAC) has determined that each of these rivers was not navigable on the date of statehood. However, the Department has appealed these decisions.
If ANSAC’s non-navigability determinations are upheld by all of the appeals courts, the riverbeds can be privately owned, and public access denied.
To learn more about the mission of ANSAC and the status of cases, visit their website at: http://www.azstreambeds.com.
Please consult the side bar links for additional information regarding purchasing, leasing, planning, engineering and rights of way on State Trust Land.