A lengthy discussion over the implementation of an economic expansion zone (EEZ) in Innovation Park took place in the Oro Valley council chambers on Oct. 3.
The ordinance, specific only to Innovation Park, was designed by Town staff with a goal of attracting and retaining businesses with high quality jobs by eliminating steps from the typical zoning review process to include neighborhood meetings, review by the Conceptual Design and Review Board, and Town council review, thereby offering time savings for business applicants and increasing a competitive edge in the global market.
The new process is expected to shorten overall review time by about three months.
“We’re trying to be unique,” said Matt Michaels of Development and Infrastructure Services. “At worst, this will get us on parity with our competitors, and at best it will help us to stand out.”
Michaels presented staff’s justification for the elimination of each of these steps, arguing first that a lack of residential areas negates the need for neighborhood meetings.
He then offered that review by the Conceptual Design Review Board and Town Council is unnecessary in this situation because the Town has already adopted detailed design standards under its current zoning code, which will be maintained at Innovation Park.
The ordinance will, however, allow citizens and applicants to appeal to council.
During the Town’s public outreach process, residents voiced concerns as to whether or not there would be opportunities for education or input regarding businesses coming to Innovation Park.
In response, Planning Division Manager David Williams proposed to council the implementation of an interactive webpage, Listserv subscription, submittal tracker tool, council reporting, and an open house session for each project to allow review and commentary by the public.
Councilman Joe Hornat initially took issue with hosting an open house, fearing it would slow the process for businesses.
“I’m concerned with the additions where we have a public comment period – that’s a problem,” he said. “I offer that those comments would come too late. We’re telling them what the decision has been versus letting them have input – which is what we are trying to get rid of here anyway.”
Councilman Mike Zinkin was the first to disagree with Hornat, though several residents would also take issue with the lack of an open house.
“I don’t have a problem with opening it to the masses,” said Zinkin. “I now think we do need a public meeting, based on the educated needs of the citizens. The purpose here is not to amend, but to be transparent.”
Hornat refuted, saying it comes down to a “question of expectation.”
“We’re going to call these people to a meeting, explain to them exactly what we are doing with the code, which is the code, and what’s going to happen with that?” he said. “Are they going to expect to have the ability to make changes? Why go to a meeting, listen to all this, and know that whatever input is given, it’s over? This will kick back to going through the whole process, and that’s what we are trying to eliminate.”
Councilman Bill Garner asked staff for clarification as to how much time an open house would add to the process, to which Williams said it would be embedded in the 30-day notice given to the public prior to development occurring.
Town Manager Greg Caton reminded council that the meetings still take up staff time to organize.
Resident Shirl Lamonna argued that while not opposed to business, a lack of an open house would mean giving up rights to address concerns over development, a notion that resident Donald Bristow reemphasized, saying “This is a premier piece of land, and the whole Town should know what’s going on in that area.”
Resident Bill Adler was skeptical that the more expedient process would prove beneficial to companies looking to relocated or start business in Oro Valley.
“Saving two or three months to a company that is moving hundreds or thousands of people is nothing to a company that size,” he said. “If that’s what we think is going to give rise to competitiveness, that’s flawed reasoning.”
Prior to a vote, Mayor Satish Hiremath would respond to commentary made throughout the meeting regarding an alleged lack of transparency between council and the public.
“To have residents talk about it being a trust issue with council, I have said this in the past and I will say it again, trust is a two way street,” he said. “This council is willing to meet you halfway, but the other part of it has to come from you. I get pretty darn cranky when I get residents that say ‘We have an issue trusting you.’ It’s a hard pill for me to swallow.”
The ordinance ultimately passed 7-0 with the inclusion of public open houses.