Marana is moving forward with a long-planned residential community that includes lots dedicated to affordable housing.

But, before it approved a rezone for the Honea Heights III Specific Plan last week, the Marana Town Council made lengthy inquiry of director of community development T. VanHook regarding any flood threats, access to recreational trails, park development, sewage systems, the need for fill material, traffic effects and just what constitutes "affordable housing," particularly in light of an adjusting housing market.

"Continue to do good work and keep moving this forward," Councilman Jon Post told VanHook after considerable discussion. "Tackle the tough questions, and we'll continue to watch it."

The planned residential community would occupy 37.7 acres adjacent to the Santa Cruz River. Marana has title to the property, which is south of Sandy Street and east of Sanders Road near the Marana Heritage River Park and Gladden Farms. Plans call for 93 single-family units, with affordable housing subsidies on 40 of them.

Even with declining home prices, "we still have some pretty serious problems of affordability in houses," VanHook told the council. Marana has 127 active names on its waiting list for affordable housing. "We are seeing a need. We'd like to move forward, get some infrastructure" built, and "see what our partners have to say."

VanHook said "a number of funding sources," totaling $1.2 million, have been identified to pay for engineering, infrastructure and other groundwork, she told the council. Marana would issue a request for proposals from qualified developers to build both market rate and affordable houses simultaneously. The price target is $178,000.

"You can buy in Rancho Marana today for $120,000," Post said. "Where's the affordability?"

"I'm all for affordable housing," Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler said. "I don't think $178,000 is affordable."

"I'm confused how these numbers are going to work," Councilman Russell Clanagan said.

Each affordable home would have a subsidy of $50,000 to $55,000, VanHook said. A qualified family paying 30 percent of its income for housing and related expenses would be borrowing from $100,000 up to $118,000, with a $1,000 down payment, she said.

"If you have some houses for sale for $180,000 and some for $120,000, are you going to stipulate how long before they can put that house back on the market?" Post asked.

Forgiveness periods are part of the subsidy structure, VanHook said. "They are silent second mortgages that are forgivable. They come due on a variety of triggers that would require repayment to the town."

VanHook said the houses would be built on smaller lots, with energy and water efficiencies built in. They would have "qualities that appeal to a certain type of purchaser. This is a different choice we're offering individuals."

The possibility of flooding was repeatedly discussed, along with the sewer system troubles of nearby Honea Heights.

Longtime Honea Heights resident Billy Schisler said "affordable housing is a necessity in Marana." He wanted to "remind you of all the misery Honea Heights has been through" the last half-dozen years, with its streets torn up for sewer lines. If the new development is completed "before we get our sewer hookups, there's going to be trouble," Schisler quipped. "Good luck, and don't forget Honea Heights. Take care of us."

"We have to figure out a way to make Honea Heights whole, and way before this project," Ziegler said.

Schisler has seen the area proposed for Honea Heights III "flooded several times in my life here. We are assured that levee will hold up. When that river gets wild, you never know."

"I would be a little hesitant to build a home there," Ziegler said.

Town Engineer Keith Brann assured the council that a levee on the Santa Cruz has three feed of "free board" clearance to protect the development in the event of the 100-year storm. "It has enough height to survive a 500-year storm," Brann said. "That would be closer to the top, but will not overtop the levee."

"The only way any water would get into this project is if it came through Gladden Farms," Mayor Ed Honea said.

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