Near the top of a low hill situated west of north Silverbell Road, Huckelberry and his wife, Maureen, are building a large and expensive home. Located in a subdivision secured behind a fashionably tarnished heavy-metal entrance gate controlled by an electronic buzzer--adjoined by a small "No Trespassing/No Soliciting" sign--the house will be a radical departure from the Flowing Wells area home the couple has occupied for the past 30 years.
Their current, 3,000-square-foot red brick residence sits on three-fifths of an acre amid tightly packed, modest homes found along a quiet street near Tucson Mall. It is the type of residential enclave where people regularly talk to their neighbors and where a potted cactus sits atop a palm tree stump, serving as decoration in the decomposed granite front yard of the Huckelberry home.
In sharp contrast, on a recent sunny but cool afternoon, a gray-and-white rabbit was bouncing through the creosote bush, saguaro cactus and mesquite trees which dominate the neighborhood of the Huckelberry's future home. The couple has purchased a steeply sloping parcel that is five times larger than their current lot, and the property looks down on other expensive, widely scattered homes.
Facing west, the Huckelberry' new house will sit in a deep cut in the hillside and have views across the mostly undisturbed lush desert of the Tucson Mountains. The stillness of the area is only disturbed by an occasional SUV driving down the cul-de-sac or a neighborhood resident walking a large guard dog.
Deciding to move about 18 months ago, and bucking the trend of most people their age who are downsizing their homes, the Huckelberrys had plans prepared for a 5,200-square foot, two-story house. According to the 56-year old county administrator, approval of the plans by Pima County's Development Services Department took many months, but laughing, he emphasizes: "I never said a word."
When asked if he was contributing to Tucson's ever-increasing sprawl problem by making the move, the chief architect of Pima County's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan chuckles. "It's certainly not Benson," Huckelberry says of his future address, referring to the announcement two weeks ago that Pulte Homes is looking to build thousands of new houses in that small town, transforming it into a bedroom community for Tucson, which is 40-miles away.
During his 12-year tenure as county administrator, Huckelberry has earned a reputation as a native son who kept his feet firmly on the ground while remaining loyal to his roots. Does he think the move to the upscale rural lifestyle of the Tucson Mountains will change that perception of him? "I don't think so," he says. "It's our first new house after 30 years. It was time to move on."
Work on the home by a Sierra Vista-based contractor began last August, but it hasn't progressed very much. The sloping site has been excavated and graded, plus a retaining wall and the building's foundation have been poured, with plumbing stub outs installed.
Huckelberry hopes the house is completed within another 12 months, and admits the process has been slow. "It's been hurry up and wait," he admits, "and a little frustrating, but everybody goes through that." He adds that the concrete shortage affecting all construction projects has also impacted the pace.
"So far, we've just been burying all that money," Huckelberry says of the work completed to date. "Hopefully, things will pick up."
In May, the Huckelberrys signed a 30-year deed of trust totaling $1.05 million for the project. Asked how much the home would actually cost to complete, Huckelberry, who earns more than $215,000 a year in salary and deferred compensation, was evasive. "It's roughly in that (price) range," was all he would offer.
Along with his new home, another will be going up for Huckelberry: his property tax bill. Currently residing in a house with a Pima County full cash value of $131,724, the Huckelberrys pay $1,749 in annual property tax.
The new house will have a tax bill possibly three or four times higher. As an example, a single-family residence near Huckelberry's Tucson Mountain lot sold last year in excess of $700,000, and has annual property taxes more than $5,100.
Featuring a U-shaped, Spanish-style appearance, the new house will include three bedrooms, a guest studio, a large office area and 3 1/2 bathrooms. There will also be a three-car garage adjoined by an RV parking stall, a 725-square-foot living room, a 6-foot drop-in garden jet tub off the master bedroom, and his and her closets.
Huckelberry points out the new house will additionally have high energy efficiency, a gray water system and a fairly large exercise area. With sewers not available in the area, the home will use a septic system.
"I've always liked the Tucson Mountains," Huckelberry explains of the couple's decision to move. "I still like Flowing Wells, but it was time to do something else."