August 31, 2005 - Town officials let out a collective sigh of relief Aug. 23 following a study session at which council members reviewed a near-complete draft ordinance of Marana's new residential design standards.

The long-awaited standards, a 24-page document detailing how the town's residential neighborhoods should look in the future, are expected to set the bar high for new development coming into Marana.

"Almost there," said Planning Director Barbara Berlin as she slapped a high-five to KB Home's director of development, Jim Noller, after the meeting.

Several representatives from the homebuilding industry attended and were quick to acknowledge afterward that none of them were there to protest the stringent requirements that will ultimately force developers to build a product far above minimum standards and stray from creating row upon row of cookie-cutter houses.

"KB Home is excited about what the town is working on and trying to achieve," Noller said. "We've been working with staff for the past several months in the process of developing these design guidelines, and we're excited about the finished product, recognizing that it's going to improve the development that's occurring within the town."

KB Home and its joint-venture partner Empire Companies are developing the 2,500-home Saguaro Springs project north of Twin Peaks Road just west of Rattlesnake Pass. Regardless of when the ordinance goes into effect, Noller said Saguaro Springs' design will be comparable to the new standards through a development agreement.

"The latest information regarding the design standards will be considered within the development plan," he said. "I think it's going to end up very close, but it probably won't be exact."

Paula Meade, vice president of land acquisition for Standard Pacific Homes, said an Aug. 15 meeting during which homebuilders met with town staff to hammer out the last details of the ordinance was beneficial. Standard Pacific Homes is planning a residential development featuring two- and three-story homes around The Pines Golf Club in Marana.

"We applaud Marana for being visionary and trying to change the look of their town," Meade said. "The building community is willing to step up to the plate and help them with that vision."

Tom Williams, DR Horton's vice president of land, was in attendance representing his firm, which is developing the San Lucas project in northern Marana east of Interstate 10.

Depending on how the council decides to word the final ordinance, San Lucas could be grandfathered in to be exempt from the standards with its project already under review.

While the development might not fully comply with the new standards, Williams said the homes in San Lucas are going to be the latest 2006 models and will be "very attractive."

"The standards are going to be very good for the town and I think, overall, we support them," he said. "The real question is how we phase them in. There's a lot of things already in the works that we're concerned about making sure that it works correctly."

The biggest issue regarding the adoption of the new standards has been when they will take effect. Homebuilders have been asking for a six-month grace period from the time of adoption, but council members said they thought that was too long and are leaning more toward 90 days.

Mayor Ed Honea said he thought six months left a large window open for developers to rush to submit preliminary plats to "get a foot in the door" to be exempt from the standards.

"I don't care if we have to compromise, but I think six months is too long," Honea said.

Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said there are 17 preliminary plats and 10 final plats under review by the town. The council agreed that those projects with plats under review within 90 days from the date of adoption could be exempt from the design standards.

Berlin noted that several developers already have agreed to adhere to the town's standards through development agreements, including developers of Payson Farms, Fianchetto Farms, Rancho Marana 154 and Saguaro Springs.

Since last year's council retreat, adopting a new set of residential design standards has been a priority for the town. The intent of the standards is to "foster a look of community rather than a look of production," Berlin said, adding that everything else is just a detail.

The new design standards have passed through the Planning and Zoning Commission, were subject to an initial public hearing and could be adopted by the council Sept. 19. A second public hearing has been scheduled for the Sept. 19 council meeting at 7 p.m. inside the Marana Municipal Complex.

Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson said the meeting is being held on a Monday instead of a Tuesday because several town officials will be in Mesa attending the Arizona League of Cities and Towns annual conference the following day.

The two biggest changes from the town's existing standards are that a separate landscaped area will be required between sidewalks and curbs and the amount of garage-dominant houses in a subdivision will be limited, Berlin said.

"We're hoping that everyone buys into the vision that we have," Honea said, expressing his relief to have the standards finally nearing adoption.

"We think it will change the community," Reuwsaat said. "It is creating a whole lot of work for us … but good things require hard work."

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