Desert Land

Several hundred acres of State Trust land are up for annexation, and the Oro Valley Town Council members discussed their thoughts on the two properties from the dais for the first time since four new members joined last November.

The Oro Valley Town Council weighed in on a possible annexation of 885 acres of untouched state land for the first time since four new members started their terms last November. The proposed development plan was presented last September and raised a few concerns among residents.

The land sits between North Thornydale and North Shannon roads on either side of West Tangerine Road, and is owned by the State Land Department. Now that the surrounding area has been developed by either Marana or Oro Valley, the department believes it is the appropriate time to sell the land and make the most amount of revenue possible to generate funds primarily for K-12 education in Arizona.

The department hired local land planning firm The WLB Group to create a development proposal. It includes 11 development units with a range of zonings suggested throughout the site. The units closest to Tangerine Road are being considered for employment and commercial uses or high density residential buildings such as apartments or townhomes. The rest of the units set farther back from the main road could see medium density residential housing put in.

Thirty-five percent of the parcels will be maintained as open space land, according to Michael Spaeth, the town’s Current Planning Principal Planner. Out of 307 acres, 64 are designated as critical resource areas, about 22 acres are core resource areas and the remaining 221 acres are resource management areas, basically buffers between environmentally-sensitive land and developed property. The town staff is currently marking the locations of saguaros, crested saguaros, Ironwood trees and other plants for preservation.

Oro Valley is almost 90 percent “built-out” according to council documents, which means within the current boundaries of the town there are almost no more opportunities for new development. The parcels sit between Marana and Oro Valley in unincorporated Pima County, so any one of those three jurisdictions could annex the land and take control of its development and receive revenues. Since Oro Valley incorporated in 1974, the town has completed over 20 annexations.

Oro Valley Chief Financial Officer Stacey Lemos believes the best opportunity for growth in the town is through annexations. At the council’s study session she explained how the state’s tax model punishes municipalities that don’t continually grow in their numbers because state-shared revenue funds, which make up about 30 percent of the town’s general fund, would be affected.

“As we start to see those ratios change, or if we start to slow down in population growth where the other cities and towns around the state continue to grow faster, we may see the pace and increases in those revenue sources start to decline,” Lemos said.

If Oro Valley doesn’t annex and the development is handed to either Marana or Pima County, the town would lose out on those long-term revenues that come along with annexation such as state-shared revenues, utility taxes, retail and sales tax and more.

If Oro Valley does annex, Spaeth said the benefit would become tangible in about one year or so, when auctions and re-zonings are complete and building permits are actually issued. Planning Manager Bayer Vella added the residential land will probably sell first, since employers often wait for rooftops to come in before they set up their businesses.

“Retail on the south side is going to have to distinguish itself from the north,” Vella said. “Any retailer is going to look at what services are either not provided across the street or maybe not provided very well.”

The council members expressed concerns over residential lot sizes, retail viability, transitions in land uses and zoning banks, but the residents at the study session were most concerned about the proposed road design.

“When I look at this I have a hard time seeing where there are any effective transitions in differing land uses and intensities in the community,” said Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett, referencing the General Plan’s language. She was particularly concerned about the proposed high-density residential zoning adjacent to three-acre lots that exist alongside Shannon Road.

Deb Gordon lives near the state land’s southern boundary line. If new roads were built as designed in the proposal, she believes vehicle traffic from the entire southern parcel’s residential subdivisions would be routed through her neighborhood street, which is relatively quiet right now.

Gordon said she spoke with town staff about the concerns she shares with her neighbors, but the proposal has not reflected their input.

Another major concern among residents is drainage. Homes located south of Camino del Norte currently experience significant drainage issues because of their downstream location. With the development of this new land, the town will require drainage tools to make a 10 percent reduction to the existing stormwater flow, according to council documents.

Town staff is still waiting on a current traffic impact analysis and fiscal impact analysis for the parcels. Looking ahead, further information is also needed regarding home density, land use transitions and buffer yards, wildlife preservation, drainage, parks and recreational amenities and other community concerns.

Comments from the town staff and neighbors about the development proposal will be provided to the State Land Department to help them develop a revised proposal to address existing questions and concerns, according to the council’s agenda.

Once a revised proposal is received, a follow-up open house will be scheduled for all residents to hear the proposed changes.

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