Nov. 17, 2004 - Oro Valley may consider packing West Lambert Lane Park full of more amenities after it was suggested by the council that the town make the most of the 40-acre site.

With the opening the Naranja Town Site park looking to be further off than the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Board thought, the council suggested the board look at its West Lambert Lane Park master plan update and perhaps develop an alternative plan that would take into consideration the possibility that a Naranja park would not open for another decade or two, leaving the town with a need for more recreational opportunities now.

The parks board presented updated plans for development of the park on West Lambert Lane, bounded on the east by La Canada Drive, the south by Lambert Lane and the north by Canada Hills Drive, to the council during a study session Nov. 8.

Chair Tom Honebrink explained that the board had decided to keep the park mostly open, providing trails for hiking and nature viewing. A hiking trail currently exists at the site, and the revised plans also include basketball courts, restrooms, a children's playground and picnic areas.

"This is really going to give Oro Valley a nice mix or nice blend of the recreational opportunities available to them," he told the council. "The park, as recommended, is 85 percent trails and open space."

He said the board's intent with the recommendation is to offer a type of park not found elsewhere in the community.

According to Parks Administrator Ainsley Reeder, the park is a unique site because of the vegetation and wildlife found there.

"At the right time of day, you can see javelina and coyotes and all kinds of birds there," she said. It is unique, too, because of the topography of "gently rolling hills" that cover the site, which she said provides an opportunity for light hiking ideal for children and families. Reeder said when considering an update, the board also looked at the council's inclination to avoid razing hills.

The town has two developed public parks aside from the Lambert site. Canyon del Oro Riverfront Park, also on Lambert Lane, has baseball fields, tennis courts and a tot lot, as well as an exercise trail, restrooms, picnic areas and an open field. James D. Kriegh, on West Calle Concordia, has similar amenities and also is the location for the Oro Valley Municipal Pool.

Honeybee Park, in Rancho Vistoso, is tentatively scheduled to be turned over to the town for public use under county bond projects approved by voters last spring, Reeder said. That park, too, is already developed.

In updating the plans for West Lambert Lane, a subcommittee of parks board members held two neighborhood forums and said neighbors had expressed concern over park lights near their homes and busy recreation spaces, such as basketball courts or play fields, which would likely be noisy. The board said they took those concerns into consideration, but also made the recommended changes after looking at overall parks plans for the town. For example, the board recommended taking out a proposed skate park from the Lambert site because, Honebrink said, one is included in the master plan for the Naranja Town site.

The 213-acre Naranja Town Site at West Naranja Drive between North La Canada Drive and North First Avenue underwent a year and half master planning period, which included numerous public hearings and working with consultants. A master plan was developed for recreational and cultural uses at Naranja that would include a performing arts center, community center, outdoor amphitheater, pools, tennis courts, trails and playing fields for softball, volleyball, soccer and baseball.

Mayor Paul Loomis questioned the idea of relying on what is to be at the Naranja park, saying those plans are in the future, and right now no one knows how far off.

He asked Honebrink, "If Naranja wasn't going to happen for 10 of 15 years, would the plan for Lambert change?" To which Honebrink responded that he believed it would change the plans.

Loomis said he is "very concerned" that only one-twelfth of the property would be used for active recreation at Lambert and he asked the board to look at the park and see "how much we can jam in this property."

"We're not sure when Naranja is going to happen," he said.

Reeder said there is not a timeline for progress at the Town site of which she is aware.

Loomis said, in a subsequent interview, it's not that anything has changed with the Naranja park plans, but that any major steps forward now hinge on a funding plan.

"Right now, funding it is looking like its going into next year," he said, about finding a way to pay for the project, which at last estimate will cost approximately $53 million. "It may include going to the voters."

He said if the project is to be developed and built all at once, it will mean a general bond, which would require voter approval. If the voters say no, then Loomis said the only way to fund it is incrementally, and even then, it would require a large amount of money up front to put in the necessary infrastructure to get started.

He said adding the time it will take to get funding secured to time for planning and construction and the project starts to look as if it will happen further in the future.

He said he suggested the parks board relook at the West Lambert Park plans because it will cost "much, much less money to develop it."

Parks board members said they were "blindsided" by the council's response to the updated plans.

At its regular meeting Nov. 10, the board regrouped and talked about what to do next.

Boardmember Jodi Sinding said in amending the West Lambert Lane plans, the subcommittee thought "if all those amenities would be at the town site there would be no need to duplicate."

She said at the time the board started updating the West Lambert Lane plans, about a year and half ago, the Naranja plans "were on the upswing and looked like it was going to happen."

"We came up with what we thought was a good medium," she said, that would provide recreational opportunities in the town, while at the same time being acceptable to neighbors.

Sinding said if Naranja is not going to be developed in the next decade, then the board does need to reconsider developing West Lambert with more amenities included.

"We are thinking maybe it was five years out," she said of Naranja development.

Other board members said they, too, were operating under the assumption that the Town site would be happening sooner rather than later.

"The notion of Naranja being far out was a new one to me," Honebrink said.

He said a complete overhaul of the parks master plan could be in order. At the study session, Loomis asked if there had been an overall needs assessment done to take inventory of what the town had and what it needs. Reeder said while a town-wide plan has not been conducted, a comprehensive study was done when developing the Naranja master plan, and she said it contains information that can be applied to all the town's parks.

But Loomis said while he was not sure the plans had to be completely redone, he would like an alternate plan for the Lambert Lane property on hand, to be prepared for whatever happens, or does not happen, in the future.

"What ends up at that park may be dependent upon what happens at the Naranja Town site," he said.

Although the parks board was surprised at the council's response, Honebrink said the feedback was helpful and the board will look at not only making changes to the plans, but also communicating better the reasons for making the recommendations included.

"The big picture is, this is just another step," Honebrink said of the feedback from the council. "We will just have to keep plugging away."

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