Protected Peaks and Ridges

Pima County's Hillside Development Zone code prohibits development of designated peaks and ridges. GPANA actively works to protect Tucson Mountain peaks and ridges under this code.

  • In 1998, as part of a revision to the Hillside Development Zone (HDZ) code, the supervisors directed Pima County staff to begin evaluating mountain ranges considered worthy of protection and sought a uniform method of evaluating them. The action was aimed at maintaining Pima County's scenic beauty, as was a zoning code amendment the commission backed that would restrict residential up-zoning, signs, and commercial driveways onto gateway roads to the metropolitan area.


  • Twin Hills road: GPANA successfully opposed a 1999 special use permit request by Dos Picos development to construct a road up 500 feet of this designated ridge.


  • Road above Trails End Estates: GPANA opposed a road in early 2000 across the protected ridge above Trails End Estates, but we were not successful. Mr. Cusack wished to construct a road from another home to his property. Although the Supervisors declined to protect this ridge because they did not want a lawsuit over 30 feet of road, the owner agreed to some design changes and to limit construction to one house instead of two.


  • Beginning in 2000, Tucson Mountains peaks and ridges on private land considered distinct or unique became part of a pilot project using computerized images to create a systematic approach to evaluating the county's more than 20 mountain ranges. Protection would be accorded those peaks or ridges that are considered dominant or prominent. Generally, that means those that rise 60 feet or more above the average grade of surrounding properties. This study was intended as a model for other mountain ranges in Pima County. Late in 2001, based on staff studies, the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended 33 more areas in the Tucson Mountains for designations as protected peaks and ridges.


  • The Enclaves ridge roads: Starting in 2001, GPANA successfully opposed a road over the end of a ridge with protected status in the Enclaves at Gates Pass. GPANA argued this decision before the Pima County Zoning Commission, the Board of Adjustment and the Board of Supervisors. We won every time. As a result, the County went to considerable expense to arrange for the road to be built without crossing the protected ridge. This ridge again became the center of a dispute in 2017.


  • The Enclaves controversy prompted Pima County to revisit the issue and begin a survey of all additional peaks and ridges in the Tucson Mountains deserving of similar protection. (No construction or roads within 150 horizontal feet of ridge line.) This process took about a year, with a citizen committee made up of representatives of a number of neighborhood and conservation organizations.


  • Finally in 2003, the Pima County Board of Supervisors extended protection to more peaks and ridges in the Tucson Mountains, but delayed action on others after hearing impassioned pleas on both sides of the issue. One result was designation of protected status for the ridge at the top of Enclaves development. Additional protected areas were added in 2004.
    Current information and map at Pima County Code: HILLSIDE_DEVELOPMENT


  • Twin Hills: Around 2004, there was a proposal to develop the north faces, on the south side of Anklam Road, plus construct a tunnel through to the other side for construction of homes on south-facing slopes overlooking Starr Pass. Protests by GPANA and others resulted in denial of permit.


  • The Enclaves ridge: In 2017, the ridge again became a point of contention when neighbors, including GPANA and TMA, opposed granting an exception which might make it more difficult for the Supervisors continue to protect ridges under the ordinance.


  • The Pima County Board of Supervisors denied a special use permit to build on the ridge to Dr. Sam Moussa who had purchased three lots. Two could be built on, but the third did not have enough land for the large proposed home without impinging on the protected ridge. This information was available in the public record. Dr. Moussa sued the County over the Supervisors' ruling. As of 2018, the case is in the court system.

Phainopepla, a silky-flycatcher, keeps his red eye on lookout. Phainopeplas relish the berries of the parasitic desert mistletoe. Photo courtesy of Roger Carpenter.

Saguaro cactus and Tucson Mountain peaks in rare snow, Gates Pass
Phainopepla, a silky-flycatcher on mesquite branch, Gates Pass area, Tucson Mountains

Saguaro cactus and Tucson Mountain peaks in rare snow, Gates Pass.  Photo courtesy of Carolyn Leigh.

Gates Pass Area Neighborhood Association (GPANA.info) at https://www.gpana.info/protected-peaks.html. The text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. The photographs are copyright by the photographers with all rights reserved.

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