Rather than risk rejection by Oro Valley, developers of a proposed $75 million to $100 million development have eliminated an element of their plan that from the time it was mentioned more than a year ago has had residents up in arms.
Canada del Oro Partners is proposing to develop a 141-acre commercial-residential complex on the east side of Oracle Road at First Avenue that upon completion is projected to produce more than $2 million a year in sales tax revenues for the town, exclusive of the benefits to be derived from residential development and bed tax revenues from a five-story hotel that will be part of the project.
When first introduced to residents in the nearby La Reserve and El Conquistador Patio Homes areas, the project known as the Oro Valley Towne Center at Rooney Ranch was described as "unique" and "upscale," but more than 100 people attending a neighborhood meeting at the time made it clear they didn't think the inclusion of a gas station fit that definition.
Over time, the proposed location of the gas station was moved. Suggestions were made that it could be screened and landscaped to be hardly noticeable, but residents never bought in. Recent mention of the possibility of a car wash as well only added fuel to the fire.
At a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission Aug. 20 attended by about 80 people, Frank Bangs, an attorney representing the developer, announced plans for the gas station and car wash had been scrapped.
A Development Review Board had sent the proposal to the commission last month with a recommendation for approval minus the gas station and car wash.
The move to abandon the gas station, along with developer compliance thus far with 59 of 65 suggested town staff changes, probably contributed greatly to the commission's unanimous decision that night to recommend approval by the Town Council of a change in zoning that will allow a mix of land uses under a zoning category known as Planned Area Development.
It took the commission five hours to reach that point, during which audience members waited patiently to have their say at a scheduled public hearing.
The mix of land uses proposed includes 571,500 square feet of commercial space on 55.5 acres for a 150,00-square-foot, five-story destination hotel, a 85,000-square-foot department store, drug store, restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters and an outdoor entertainment area.
Plans also call for 151 townhomes, down from 188 intended originally, and an overall density of 1.6 homes per acre, down from 2.5 homes per acres, in the residential portion of the development. The amount of land to be set aside as open space has also been increased from 45 percent to 50 percent.
During a two-hour presentation by town staff, planner Bob Conant showed commission members a gas station in Carefree as an example of how screening and design work could improve a gas station. "Beautiful," shouted a member of the audience facetiously, to which the audience broke out in laughter.
In response to a question from Commissioner Robert Krenkowitz concerning the viability of the project, Economic Development Administrator Jeff Weir said there was no reason to believe the community lacked the means to support the retail development based on income data from the 2000 census showing median family income of more than $67,000 per year in Oro Valley.
In addition, Weir said typical costs for such a development might average between $65 and $85 a square foot, but the Towne Center's cost will probably be double that because of the quality of the proposed center. Developers aren't going to risk those kinds of costs if they don't think there's a market, he said.
Krenkowitz asked if it might be possible to wait and have the site developed by someone else with a better idea since it's likely to one day be one of the premier retail locations in town. Weir said two other major developers had looked at the site already and chose to go elsewhere.
Among the improvements already implemented in plans as a result of staff suggestions are enhanced pedestrian areas around the buildings, use of parking lots for special events, reductions in grading, the elimination of an extension of Pusch View Lane to connect with La Reserve and the relocation of the five-story hotel.
Despite the wait, members of the audience weren't discouraged from expressing their views. Fourteen people did so.