The Marana Town Council approved a request to alter a major development plan on the northwest side of town, allowing flexibility for potential builders to put in more residential development rather than commercial.
During the Jan. 21 council meeting, town staff presented a land use plan called “Uptown in Marana.” It consists of 205 acres located north of Marana Road and east of Sanders Road that was entitled in 2007 to owners Rio Claro, Inc.; 515 Marana, LLC; BOA Sorte Ltd. Partnership and KLW Investments, LLLP, et. al.
The original entitlement was 80 acres of regional commercial uses (corporate and professional offices, malls, entertainment and other supporting services) and eight acres of neighborhood commercial uses (office, retail and local services).
The plan also included a mixed-use designation that allowed an additional 29 acres for potential commercial use or multi-family housing.
This could be utilized for “medical and professional offices and various retail and service uses,” according to council documents.
The remaining 88 acres were designated for up to 930 units of low to medium density residential and medium to high density residential with a five-acre community park.
In the last 13 years since the property entitlement was created, market conditions have changed considerably, according to Keri Silvyn of Lazarus & Silvyn, P.C., the law firm representing the owners. Last April, they approached town staff with concerns about the marketability of their parcel, and this month, they formally asked the council to change the entitlement to allow more flexibility for what could be built on the land.
Under the new entitlement—granted by a unanimous vote from the council—only 15 acres of neighborhood commercial is required, but additional acreage may be developed for commercial uses if there is a demand for it. The rest is for residential housing.
Silvyn said the move away from commercial and toward residential was caused by changes in the surrounding region.
In 2006, they expected a direct access roadway to be built that would connect their development to Interstate 10. That roadway has since been moved south to where the Marana Road interchange currently is. It no longer made sense for them to put in regional commercial zoning where there was no direct access to the freeway.
“That was the main reason, plus the fact that we all know that commercial follows the rooftops, and the Northern Marana area really doesn’t have enough rooftops at this point to support commercial,” Silvyn said. “And it doesn’t even have enough land entitled for rooftops to really support commercial coming in a speculative manner.”
She believes the retailers need to see more land zoned and ready for residential uses before any commercial ventures will take hold, adding that there is already about 3,000 acres of entitled commercial property available in North Marana.
Council documents say there are approximately 1,135 acres of commercial and mixed-use land within “close proximity” to the Uptown at Marana site, including specific plans for properties such as the Marana Towne Center, Sanders Grove, Marana Main Street, Barrios de Marana, Anway Farms, Villages of Tortolita and San Lucas.
Silvyn said the new land use plan gives her clients the flexibility to develop the space into whatever the market is demanding.
“Of the 205 acres, a minimum of 15 acres has to be commercial, the rest can be residential, it can also be commercial,” she said. “If it turns out that there is a market and all the other rooftops come to fruition and really what this property needs to be is commercial, it can be that. But it at least allowed the residential in there.”
In exchange for this flexibility, Mayor Ed Honea wanted to see large lot sizes for the single-family residential homes, according to Silvyn. He said the council was previously accepting of the 2,200 square-foot lots, because they expected the homes to be near a lot of commercial development.
But since the plan is shifting towards a residential community, Honea and the other council members stipulated that the lot sizes needed to expand. The council and property owners agreed on 4,000 square-foot lots instead, with a maximum of 930 single-family units in total. Their agreement also included a dog park and half of a basketball court included in the five-acre park.
Silvyn said this plan still allows them the opportunity to create smaller lot sizes in the multi-family housing units. Overall, she believes any groundbreaking on this 205-acre site is still a few years away, depending on the demand.
“I think the owners are hoping that with this flexibility they can now get somebody to come in and develop it sooner rather than later,” Silvyn said.
Honea agrees with that assessment, saying when the property was first entitled over a decade ago, the town was experiencing lots of demand for growth.
“The economy was just crazy, I think Marana built 1,800 houses that year, that’s the most we’ve ever done in one year and we thought that whole property between Marana Road and the freeway was going to be developed overnight,” Honea said. “Then the recession hit, and everything fell apart. So that just kind of went away, there just wasn’t money to do those kinds of projects, not just that property but the ones adjacent to them.”
He said it’s a “nice property,” with relative flatness located at a higher elevation that doesn’t cause concern for flooding from the Tortolita Fan, but Honea believes infrastructure is another barrier to getting shovels in the ground.
“Infrastructure such as sewer and potable water that are not readily available on that property, so it would cost considerable amounts of money to put in that infrastructure to get it there,” he said. “It makes it pretty tough. I think eventually it will be built on, but I don’t foresee anything in the immediate future on that project.”