Last Saturday, hundreds of Oro Valley residents turned out to the corner of North La Ca- ñada Drive and West Lambert Lane to let town officials know about their interest in developing a 21st-century downtown feel in the growing surburban community.
Setting off from in front of Noble Hops gastropub, participants took a stroll around one of the two intersections identified in the concept, the other being North Oracle Road and North First Avenue. The crowd made stops at several stations along the way, at which they learned more about the project, were shown various architectural and design examples and asked to cast their vote on what they would most like to see in Oro Valley.
“We would like to build off of what we have already, a great cluster of local business in that area, and just amplify that,” said Oro Valley Long Range Principal Planner Elisa Hamblin. “Allowing there to be more development, have streets that people can walk along, enjoy that environment and feel like there is a sense of place. For us it is more development, but it’s also about integrating plazas and park spaces, public art that really celebrates Oro Valley’s character.”
Heading into Walk the Block with information collected from last year’s public outreach efforts, Hamblin said that three responses came back “loud and clear”: creating a central gathering place for residents to meet one another and find food or shopping, creation of a “family friendly” environment and creating more services were people can “work, shop, live and play—here in the town.”
The Main Street Project got its start nearly four years ago when the town council began kicking around the idea finding and nurturing “the heart” of Oro Valley, according to Oro Valley Planning Manager and Planning and Zoning Administrator Bayer Vella, who says creating that cohesive gathering space could take another two decades of incremental work.
Vella said there would be some difference between the two intersections under consideration. Whereas the La Canada and Lambert intersection would focus more on native appeal and local establishments, Vella said that the Oracle and First intersection would be more of a traditional hub or larger civic space, considering the proximity to a major thoroughfare.
Business opportunities were not the only part of the design the public considered on Saturday. Whether it’s the potential for roadside parking, multi-story buildings, enhanced bike and pedestrian lanes or the inclusion of public art, residents were shown examples of other municipal gathering places and given the chance to vote for their favorite design aspects.
For Oro Valley mother April Dinsdale, who walked the block with her family, the chance to have a central gathering place was interesting, though she expressed some caution in seeing the massive project’s completion.
“I think that it’s a fun idea,” she said. “I would just want to make sure that we’re not going to build up a big area that sits empty. I want to make sure that there are businesses that will actually come, and not have more empty shopping centers.”
That caution is something Vella expects with a project as large as Main Streets, especially when considering just how much work would have to be done between the downtown, property owners, businesses and the residents. Despite the massive amount of work to be done Vella said at a certain point, it would be necessary in some capacity for the town’s future.
“We know that the push for redevelopment is coming,” he said. “We are at 95 percent build out, and what I try to coach folks is that as a planner growth doesn’t stop—the pressure dynamic changes. So this is a very long range project and we are setting the stage for redevelopment because that pressure for growth is going to continue. It’s just going to take a different shape and this is our effort to get ahead of that. We’re not there right now, but it is coming.”
Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Perry, who also volunteered at the event, agreed that tangible progress could be seen a few years down the road, though the work will be substantial.
“You’ve got private property rights, you’ve got traffic considerations,” he said. “There is so much that goes into trying to do this, but I think that people want something. … I think it’s doable, but it’ll take a remarkable level of planning, a remarkable level of participation with property owners and business people. These people have investments here and they need to be protected, in fact they need to be enhanced. We’re not trying to make things the way they are, we’re trying to make things better.”
For more information and layouts of the Main Streets plan, visit www.orovalleyaz.gov/mainstreets.