Marana, which has seen one of the fastest growth rates in the state over the last decade, is seeking input from its residents this week on a recently completed draft of the town's general plan that will guide development in Marana for the next decade.

The town is in the process of amending its general plan and is doing so for the first time under the 1998 Growing Smarter law that mandates, among other things, increased resident input and the establishment of guidelines for new policy elements.

Workshops where the public can review the plan and provide comment are scheduled for June 12 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Continental Ranch Community Center, 8881 N. Coachline Blvd.; and June 13 from 5 p.m to 8 p.m. at the Heritage Highlands Golf and Country Club, 4949 W. Heritage Club Blvd.

The plan is a document intended to provide a framework of general policies used by town administrators and elected officials to guide growth and development in the community. It is scheduled to be presented for citizen ratification during the March Town Council election.

Marana Town Manager Mike Hein said the public's input is vital to the creation of the document, not a perfunctory process in which planners will collect the public's comments and then develop policies and guidelines as they see fit.

"No, I think that is a common idea in some governments," Hein said. "But Marana has demonstrated a commitment to outreach during some of the recent planning efforts like the Santa Cruz River Corridor Plan and the Northwest Marana Plan - there's been a number of planning areas we have had significant public input on. This isn't something that just gets shelved to collect dust. I know our planners use these documents in every meeting when the development interests come forward in an area of town."

Unfortunately, public apathy about the update of the general plan has been the rule so far. Despite the Growing Smarter legislation that requires municipalities to encourage public participation, fewer than 20 people turned out for three initial meetings held in March to discuss the plan, said Jordan Feld, a Marana planner.

"We're hoping for a little bit more participation this time around now that the actual draft is available for them to review," Feld said.

Much of the public input so far that resulted in the draft general plan released last week was derived from focus groups, said Marana Town Planner Joel Shapiro.

"Rather than going with a broad focus group whose interests would be very broad, we decided to break it down into more specific groups and their more narrow interests," Shapiro said.

The groups, consisting of representatives from four special interest areas, are heavily weighted with members of the business, governmental and development community, according to a roster obtained from the town.

The Citizen Focus Groups contain 30 representatives, including Councilmember Carol McGorrey, two members of the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission and former Town Manager Hurvie Davis, who now works as a paid consultant for the town on water issues. The citizen's list also includes the names of two newspaper reporters who are covering the process rather than providing comment.

By comparison, the Developer Focus Group has 38 representatives including just about every developer doing business in Marana.

The Farming, Mining and Ranching Focus Group has 37 representatives including Tucson Ready Mix Concrete, San Xavier Rock and Mineral, ASARCO mining, Granite Construction and the Arizona Portland Cement Co.

The Environmental Focus Group has only eight members, including a representative of Defenders of Wildlife, the Sonoran Desert Institute and the Arizona State Museum.

The draft of the general plan provides broad policies and goals to guide the town's land use, transportation and traffic circulation, anticipated growth areas, public facilities and services, cost of development, environment, recreation and open space, water resources and economic development.

According to the plan, three areas have been identified as the town's future growth areas: rural Northwest Marana, where the town plans to place its new municipal complex and where several master-planned communities are planned; the south central area, which includes Continental Ranch, where planners expect homebuilding to continue along with the development of employment based industry and retail businesses; and the northeast part of town near Dove Mountain, where Marana plans more low-density master-planned housing developments and resorts in an area already federally restricted by the endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

Other highlights of the draft plan include:

A commitment toward Marana developing its own Multiple Species Conservation Plan and obtaining a Section 10 permit under the Endangered Species Act to provide guidelines for development in the areas where the pygmy owl limits growth. The policy makes no mention of cooperation with Pima County's own Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which Marana officials have said is too vague and restrictive.

A goal of seeking to make Marana the water provider for all residents within the town. Marana is currently negotiating with Tucson Water to purchase the areas in Dove Mountain and Continental Ranch now serviced by the city of Tucson's water utility.

A policy of requiring developers moving into isolated regions to provide sewer and water conduits and other infrastructure of a size that will accommodate future growth in designated areas.

In addition to collecting and incorporating comment from the public, the plan has also been sent to other jurisdictions such as the town of Oro Valley, Pima and Pinal counties and the state land department for review and comment, Shapiro said.

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