Last month, hundreds of Oro Valley residents gathered at the intersection of North La Cañada Drive and West Lambert Lane for the chance to cast a vote and voice their opinion on what they see as the best course of action for future development in the area. Entitled the Walk the Block event, the Saturday afternoon trip was the first major public event of the Main Streets Project: Oro Valley’s plan to develop a town center.
Having begun the work early last year, Bayer Vella, Oro Valley planning manager and planning and zoning administrator, said all of the staff working behind the scenes on Main Streets was excited to see just how much interest the project had garnered—and that they were blown away by the turnout.
“We expected roughly 200 folks, and were pretty wide-eyed about that possibility,” Vella said. “But to get 350-plus folks there in attendance really buffaloed us, in a very strong way. We couldn’t be more pleased.”
Whether elderly residents, young families or high school students, Bayer said the turnout coupled with the wide demographic of attendees meant the project had grabbed the attention of those who would actually make use of a gathering place within the town. Those walking the block did more than converse with staff, however. Votes were cast on a variety of different aspects of potential development, including preferred means of transportation, crosswalk and sidewalk designs, public art, architecture and more.
“From a big picture perspective, for people to be actively engaged in the idea and be able to go out on the street, talk about it and see things for themselves was a big plus for us,” said Oro Valley Long Range Principal Planner Elisa Hamblin, who was also involved in the
recently completed and adopted Your Voice, Our Future General Plan. “I think that it’s something to see an idea on paper, but it’s something else entirely when you can see a physical representation.”
Hamblin said it was rewarding to see the “real interest” residents had in improving and changing various aspects of the intersection. Lambert and La Cañada is just one of two locations tapped for the project’s future, the other being North Oracle Road and North First Avenue.
With the voting results in mind, Hamblin and Vella both said a significant takeaway from Walk the Block was the “huge interest” in developing more walkable pedestrian spaces and sidewalks.
Of the totals, the results for “How would you like to get around OV Main Streets?” were led by walking at 187 votes, use of a shuttle at 114, biking at 83 and the least popular with 41 votes was driving and parking.
Not only was the community interested in improved pedestrian pathways, but also in using those amenities at later times of the day. Hamblin noted that as a perfect example, the crowd gathered for the event began to immediately thin out as the sun set—in part due to a lack of street lighting in the area. The voting preferences for sidewalk design were led by improved sidewalk seating at 110 votes and lighting at 103.
As for the responses, Vella said he was not entirely surprised, as he saw the Main Streets Project a continuation the many community-focused ideas which came to light as part of the Your Voice, Our Future surveying process.
“Previous general plans, in 1996 and 2005, were all about land use; 95 percent of the document was focused on development and land use,” Vella said. “Not so this go-around, and I think that ties into the fact that we’re at about 95 percent build-out and we have a new demographic, a younger demographic, and they’re looking for more; more connectivity, more gathering spaces. So, I think that given the results of Your Voice, no one should be surprised that this community building project is a center of attention and attracting a lot of interest.”
One surprise for the two planners was the public’s opinion of other “main streets” throughout the state, photos of which were presented in photographs to the crowd. Scenes from town centers in Chandler, Gilbert at Scottsdale were displayed, and the votes poured in for scenes from the more modern Gilbert environment.
According to Vella, the project plans still need to make the rounds through the town, including town council, before development of an improvement plan may begin. For major improvements to the intersections to occur, Vella also mentioned Regional Transportation Authority funds and involvement would likely play a part, and could take some time to come to fruition.