It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been in Tucson for any length of time that there is a major military airport in the area. You may not have been aware, however, that under legislation passed by the Arizona Legislature, most of the central and the southeastern portions of greater Tucson have been officially designated “territory in the vicinity of a military airport.” Why? Because there has been a political effort to ensure the long-term viability of the major military airports in Arizona, specifically Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, the Yuma Proving Ground near Yuma, and Luke Air Force Base in western Maricopa County. As part of that effort, state and federal officials have been attempting to both increase awareness of the contributions of those airports to the state’s economy, and decrease the potential for future impairment of the airports’ operations due to encroaching urban expansion.

The designation of “territory in the vicinity of a military airport” is part of a regulatory scheme first put in place by the Legislature in 1997 that includes various measures to make buyers of real estate in the affected areas aware of the presence of Davis-Monthan and the other military airports. The designation and the accompanying disclosure requirement appear to be designed to accomplish two objectives: (1) to encourage local governments to adopt land use plans that will prevent incompatible new uses from locating near the military airports, and (2) to avoid having newcomers move into the area, then be surprised by (and complain about) the military aircraft constantly flying overhead. In both cases, the goal clearly is to increase awareness of the presence of the military airports and prevent erosion of local (and Armed Forces) support for their continued presence.

The idea that Davis-Monthan’s continued presence in Tucson should be questioned may seem rather absurd to those of us who have lived and worked in central Tucson for long periods of time. I have lived and/or worked near the flight path from Davis-Monthan most of my life and actually find the presence of the aircraft comforting. Even if one finds the aircraft annoying, however, it seems unlikely that anyone would be in Tucson long enough to buy property and not notice them.

It also seems unlikely, except for neighborhoods that are very close to the end of the runway, that the presence of the aircraft has any significant effect on property values. A case could certainly be made that if Davis-Monthan were to be closed, the negative impact on the local economy would diminish property values much more than they are diminished by the aircraft flying overhead.

In its first regular session in 2001, the Arizona Legislature actually did away with the previous requirement that any transfer of property within “territory in the vicinity of a military airport” must contain a specific disclosure to that effect. The Legislature instead mandated that the Arizona Real Estate Commissioner record in the office of the County Recorder a document applicable to property within “territory in the vicinity of a military airport.” The document is to contain the following disclosure: “This property is located within territory in the vicinity of a military airport and may be subject to increased noise and accident potential.”

The result of this new mandate by the Legislature will likely be, and the intended result apparently is, that every title report on property within the “territory” will show that a document has been recorded stating that the property is “in the vicinity of a military airport and may be subject to increased noise and accident potential.” The “territory” for Davis-Monthan is a rectangle having the following points as its approximate corners: on the north, Craycroft Rd. north of River Rd.; on the east, a point north of Old Spanish Trail and east of Camino Loma Alta in the Rincon Valley; on the south, Dawn Rd. east of Houghton Rd. (near the Pima County Fairgrounds); and on the west, Broadway Blvd. west of Stone Ave. The “territory” therefore includes not only virtually all of the established central Tucson neighborhoods, but a large portion of the expanding southeast side as well.

It is possible that this disclosure may alarm some potential buyers (assuming that they actually read their preliminary title report). It might even motivate some buyers contemplating properties both within and outside the “territory” to choose to buy property that is outside the “territory.” The Legislature has apparently made a determination that the value of the military airports to all residents of Pima County outweighs the possible negative impact that the continued presence of those airports, and the mandated disclosure that their presence may result in “increased noise and accident potential,” will have on those within the “territory.”

The extent to which the “increased noise and accident potential” actually affects the desirability of property in the “vicinity” of Davis-Monthan is, of course, highly subjective. There is undoubtedly more noise near the end of the runway, but is there really a significantly “increased accident potential?” In my memory, two military aircraft have crashed in Tucson, both in the flight path northwest of Davis-Monthan. Statistically that fact means that the rate of military aircraft crashes is higher in that area (one every twenty years or so) than elsewhere (presumably, zero), but is it significant enough to affect desirability of property in that area? There is also the inescapable fact that if a potential buyer is attracted by the unique characteristics of central Tucson, there simply are not competing properties that are not in the “vicinity” of Davis-Monthan.

The considerations that led to the designation of the “territory in the vicinity of a military airport” are, obviously, political in nature. The practical impact of the designation may or may not be significant. The disclosure resulting from the designation will undoubtedly, however, cause questions about why it is there and what it really means, particularly from relative newcomers to Tucson.