OV undertakes housing study

Oro Valley housing study is open online through May 31. (Town of Oro Valley/Submitted)

A comprehensive study of Oro Valley’s housing inventory and future needs is “definitely a sign of a community that’s maturing,” Town Planning Manager Bayer Vella said he believes.

“We’ve been in the adolescent phase, with a lot of very fast growth” in the last 25 years, said Vella, who has worked for town government since 1999.

“We’re starting to enter a period of refinement. There’s not much land left, and it’s important for the town to be strategic on what we might do with it,” he said.

The long-anticipated housing study is under way. Its public introduction is a series of surveys concerning housing. The surveys, to be completed by residents, people who work in Oro Valley, and owners of businesses within the community, are open online through May 31 (see related story).

When tabulated, results of those surveys will be shared with the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Oro Valley Town Council later this year. Plans are to post the results on the town’s website, orovalleyaz.gov. And they’ll be part of the housing study, which in turn is going to be used by citizens crafting Oro Valley’s next 10-year general plan, slated to go before the voters in 2026.

Oro Valley has not previously undertaken a comprehensive housing study.

Several years ago, town staff conducted a “very focused apartment study,” Vella said. But “we’ve only studied slivers of this. We’ve never really taken a step back and done the comprehensive deep dive to address all the factors associated with housing, where are we today, and where are we going.”

Traditional single-family housing, “the bread and butter of Oro Valley since its incorporation” in 1974, is near maximization, Vella said. As Oro Valley nears build-out of land suitable for development within its borders, new subdivisions are being built toward the outskirts, in places like the La Cholla corridor and the few remaining parcels within Rancho Vistoso.

Since 2010, three major apartment communities have been built along Oracle Road, two more are approved for Oro Valley Marketplace, another one-level apartment community is nearing completion at Oracle and Linda Vista, and more apartment proposals are coming.

Oro Valley is “going to stop growing in the same manner the town has grown in the last 20, 25 years,” Vella said. “The next phase of growth has already started.”

New growth comes in the form of infill projects, the repurposing of larger, empty storefronts, and “uses on sites that are new to the market,” Vella said. “Landowners are making more and more requests relative to higher density.”

Infill development is “very challenging,” Vella said, because it can involve more difficult infrastructure access and terrain...and neighbors. “That’s in every community, certainly not just Oro Valley,” he said. “There are more stakeholders in designing a project to fit within the context of neighbors who have been there quite a long time, and are understandably vested in their communities.”

Yet growth “doesn’t stop,” Vella has said repeatedly. “It just changes shape, and you can look anywhere in the country and see that.”

The housing study, then, is “an opportunity for the town to get ahead of the curve,” and think about “redevelopment, the next phase of Oro Valley’s growth.”

Consultant Elliot D. Pollack & Company of Scottsdale is conducting the study. The firm has worked on housing and economic market studies for Flagstaff, Glendale, Sedona and Gilbert. Oro Valley is paying Pollack and Company $58,000 to perform the housing study, according to town records.

Oro Valley is “just around the corner to reaching 50,000 population,” a figure that triggers a state requirement for a “housing element” in the next general plan, Vella said. Housing is an area “we know we’re going to need to address by state law,” it’s also a “topic of community interest,” and it’s been an action item within both the 2016 voter-approved Your Voice Our Future general plan, as well as the town council’s strategic leadership plan, he said.

The housing study is expected to analyze Oro Valley’s current housing inventory, the factors in housing demand, housing needs and supportable retail demand, and an action plan in determining how Oro Valley should meet its housing needs. It’ll touch upon the relationship between housing and employment, the relationships among housing and the retail and restaurant industries, and the need for rental housing.

As a planning staff, “we’re hungry for having solid baseline data to work from, facts and figures we can present to decision makers, and they can make their decisions, one way or another,” Vella said. “Are there gaps? Are there needs? It’s all quantifiable.”

The study may also inform longer-range policy decisions regarding the changing housing economy. For example, Vella said, a “significant issue in the state” is whether communities should allow accessory dwelling units to be built on a property, in the form of small guest-house structures with full kitchen facilities that can accommodate loved ones. “That’s not currently allowed in Oro Valley, or in most jurisdictions,” Vella said.

Oro Valley is going to learn “who are we, and where are we headed in terms of needs” for housing, Vella concludes. “We want to get more facts and figures behind these things we intuitively understand, but make a lot of this quantifiable.

“It’s a big deal, and definitely a milestone for the town, that we’ve reached this level of maturity, and (are) looking toward the next steps in terms of growth and development and refinement of the town,” Vella said.

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