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Pima County plans to purchase 286 acres of desert land in the Tucson Mountain area to preserve its historical, biological and cultural significance.

The Dallas Firefighters Pension Fund owns the land, and planned to develop about 260 homes on the site, which sits near the intersection of West Speedway Boulevard and West Anklam Road.

Pima County opposed the development, and the Tucson Water Department would not assure the developer it would provide water service to the homes. That stalled the development during the recession, when the value of the land dropped significantly from the $27 million the pension fund spent on it.

The county plans to spend $7.5 million to buy the property. The money will come from a 2004 bond package, and from an environmental fund the JW Marriot Starr Pass pays into.

The site is worth the money, said Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías, who represents the Painted Hills area.

“Painted Hills is probably one of the most important pieces of property and open space in the Tucson Mountains that creates a connection between Tucson Mountain Park and gets us closer to linking it up to Sweetwater Preserve," he said.

He called the property iconic, and compared the significance of the purchase to the county’s land on nearby Tumamoc Hill.

“This is a giant win for people in Pima County who believe in land conservation and protecting the Sonoran Desert," Elías said. "It's also one of the most aesthetically beautiful locations in the Tucson Mountains."

The purchase will require approval from the Tucson City Council and the Pima County Board of Supervisors because the bond funds will be moved from an urban use fund to the land preservation.