More than two years after Continental Ranch neighbors threatened to form picket lines to keep unwanted businesses from their residential subdivisions, Marana has proposed a plan to regulate commercial building along Silverbell Road.

The proposed ordinance, drafted Sept. 16 and expected to be forwarded to the Marana Town Council for consideration later this month, would create the town's first overlay district.

Overlays, used to set development standards in a specific planning area, have been used in Pima County and Oro Valley for years to regulate building in scenic regions or other sensitive areas.

Marana's proposed Silverbell Road Corridor Overlay District would regulate the types of businesses allowed to operate along Silverbell from Cortaro Road to Twin Peaks Road and set basic design standards for the buildings, said Marana Planning Director Joel Shapiro.

"It should go a long way to help protect the residential character of that portion of Continental Ranch. The neighbors made clear to us that they didn't want to see certain types of commercial development there and I think the overlay serves as good compromise that will satisfy both the residents and the developers," Shapiro said.

The overlay district will not affect the businesses proliferating in the area zoned for commercial uses east of Continental Ranch near Interstate 10 and Cortaro or existing business in the neighborhood, Shapiro said.

According to a draft of the ordinance, which Shapiro stressed could change before being presented to the council, the overlay district would prohibit businesses that include adult entertainment; automobile bodywork and painting; bowling alleys; heavy equipment and machinery sales or rental; hospitals; industrial uses; live entertainment facilities, including nightclubs that offer dancing and music performed by more than one musician; theaters and warehouses.

Permitted uses in the draft plan, which far outnumber prohibited uses, include day care centers; offices; art galleries, barber and beauty shops; banks; bookstores, florists, and liquor stores; music stores, restaurants, cafes, delicatessens and coffee shops; sporting good stores, toy stores and many other small scale retail and office uses.

The overlay district also sets forth site and building design requirements that will regulate hours of operation, signs, lighting, parking and traffic for new businesses.

The overlay was first proposed in June 2001 after residents from two sections of Continental Ranch packed council meetings to protest plans for commercial development in their respective neighborhoods.

One group of neighbors opposed plans to build a Bashas' supermarket and an Osco drug store near Silverbell Road and Coachline Boulevard. The developers of the project, Southwest Value Partners, voluntarily shelved the project in 2001 after encountering heated opposition from neighbors.

The other group of residents was upset over plans for a business strip on Silverbell near Wade Road that included a Sonic fast food restaurant, a self-serve car wash, and other businesses.

"They were businesses that were just not compatible with the neighborhood," said Dan Sullivan, a Continental Ranch neighbor who opposed the project in 2001 and later served on the committee that helped draft the proposed ordinance. "I think the overlay as written is more than fair and the town should be commended for working so diligently with the neighbors."

In response to the neighbors' protests in 2001, the Marana council ordered a six-month moratorium on commercial building in Continental Ranch and directed planners to research the possibility of implementing an overlay district.

Marana also commissioned a survey of Continental Ranch residents in early 2002 to try and determine which types of businesses neighbors would like to see developed and which ones they would oppose.

Over 60 percent of the more than 400 residents surveyed said more businesses were needed in the area, and only 4 percent thought there were too many already.

When asked specifically which types of businesses they would like to see in Continental Ranch, more than 26 percent of the residents said restaurants, and most of the respondents showed a clear preference for "fine dining" or "sit down-style" establishments as opposed to fast food restaurants or bagel and donut shops, which came in as some of the least desirable businesses.

Shapiro said most of the remaining commercial parcels in Continental Ranch - including the land that was to be home to the controversial fast food and car wash strip - would probably be developed as small office and commercial retail strips.

He said the delay in drafting the ordinance was prompted by protracted negotiations with developers and was never a concern for planners.

"There's only a handful of commercial parcels left and the developers knew we were working on the ordinance and were cooperative," Shapiro said.

Leon Marx, the developer whose plans for the Sonic and car wash helped bring about the overlay, said he was "reasonably OK" with the proposed ordinance.

"Time will tell if we're more successful with offices and retail rather than what we originally planned, but the overlay seems to be a fair compromise. I really didn't have a lot of choice, since the town vetoed the original idea," Marx said.

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