August 16, 2006 - The town of Marana plans to one day transform its once-desolate town core into a happening hub with two- and three-story buildings, shops and vibrant downtown streetscapes.

The planned Town Center will frame the town's $32-million, 113-square-foot municipal complex, opened last year. Any neighborhood built around the envisioned Town Center must match the standard set by the colossal town hall, officials say.

Marana's town council on Aug. 1 delivered that message to Richmond American Homes, which provided to the town renderings with its preliminary plat for a 262-home subdivision that would partly surround the Town Center planned along Marana Main Street and Civic Center Drive.

Depicting southwestern-style houses, the renderings for Richmond at Marana Town Center left council members unimpressed.

"Richmond American doesn't get it," Councilwoman Patti Comerford said. "They need to go back to the drawing board … I don't even give them an A for effort."

Council members had no problems with the actual plat, which town staff and consultants worked on for almost three years.

"The plat is not the issue. It's the building," Comerford said.

The councilwoman still voted against approving the plat. Vice Mayor Herb Kai also dissented in the 5-2 vote.

"Staff shouldn't bring us something to vote on and tell us it's OK when there are problems with it," Kai said after the meeting. "You're asking us to vote on something that needs work."

Before the vote, Kai asked Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat if it made more sense to sit down and discuss council members' concerns before voting. Reuwsaat recommended the council approve the plat, adding that Richmond American, with input from town staff and council members, can make changes before the project returns to the council in final plat form.

The town wants something "unique … not something you can just plop down," Reuwsaat said. "Clearly, Richmond American needs to hear the message."

Almost all seven council members echoed Comerford's sentiments.

"Look at the municipal complex," Councilman Tim Escobedo said after the meeting. "We don't want to build another box-on-box home."

Though Richmond American representatives sat in the audience, lobbyist Michael Racy spoke on behalf of the homebuilder. Racy also lobbies state lawmakers on behalf of the town.

"This was all done with Town Center consultants," he said, calling the renderings "conceptual."

The designs predate and even influenced the town's residential design standards, adopted last year, Racy said.

"This is a work in progress," he explained after the meeting. "Substantive changes need to be made in architecture and color."

The conceptual displays "weren't very good." They failed to explain the concepts of "Z" lots and courtyard lots, which will make their debut in Marana with this development, Racy said.

Richmond American's plans call for 139 garden court lots averaging 3,858 square feet and 123 "Z" lots averaging 4,168 square feet.

The courtyard lots will feature houses with garages in back, leaving front yards to open up into a common courtyard. All traffic will flow behind the houses. The "Z" lots will alternate the position of garages creating an aesthetic jigsaw puzzle with the position of the houses.

Richmond American continues to work with Southwest Value Partners and Continental Ranch developer Greg Wexler on plans for the Town Center and subdivision. Richmond American has met several times with town staff and knows what changes need made, including updating the color palette to include "more fun colors," Wexler said.

The town unveiled plans for its downtown in September. Site plans available on the town's Web site show spots for a bank, library, Northwest Fire/Rescue District building and places for retail shops. Stockmen's Bank has expressed interest in moving to the Town Center.

As master developer for the Town Center, Wexler expects more potential commercial tenants will express interest when the subdivision gets final approval and houses get built.

"The general consensus is that there needs to be a few more rooftops before people make investments," Reuwsaat said.

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