On Wednesday, March 6 the Oro Valley Town Council had its opportunity to take action on one area of a large Planned Area Development on the west side of Oracle Road.
On the table for discussion was Area 4 of the Town Center PAD, which sits near the intersection of North Oracle Road and West Pusch View Lane between two existing subdivisions. A PAD is a zoning district with a specific set of land uses, standards and conceptual site designs.
The owner of the land is Patrick Rooney, who also owns the Rooney Ranch shopping center close-by. The total parcel is about 141 acres: Areas 1 and 2 are currently zoned for commercial use and Area 3 is a mixed-use parcel with possibilities for multi-family housing, commercial, office or hotel developments.
Area 4 is zoned for single family residential or open space. Rooney’s current zoning entitlement, established in a rezoning from 2012, is 65 lots with a minimum square footage of 15,000, one and two story homes with a maximum height of 25 feet. The zoning calls for 75 percent of the land to be open space with one access point to the development.
Rooney, who was represented by planning firm The WLB Group, has requested a zoning amendment for the single access road to be realigned more smoothly, the lot amount to be moved up from 65 to 82, the minimum square footage to be reduced to 6,000 and 7,200 square feet and the open space to be reduced to 70 percent (a two acre difference).
There was a clear split in opinion on the dais, with four members of council wanting to see changes made to the proposal and the other three wanting to approve it as is.
“It’s really our charge to make a determination whether the proposed design is essentially better than the previous,” said Planning Manager Bayer Vella at the council meeting. “What does it do to further concerns relative to neighborhood compatibility, views, etcetera?”
Paul Keesler, the town engineer, explained that the design of this development is heavily dictated by hills throughout the area. The proposed zoning amendment would cut a portion of the land by 20 feet to even out the gradients. Terracing and walls could also be used to ease the slope.
The proposal moves the lots closer to Oracle Road by 60 feet, from 320 feet down to 260. To create a barrier between the homes and the road, there is a proposed wall varying from six to eight feet in height.
Town staff decided that the proposal is compatible with the neighboring subdivisions. It requests 800 feet (about two and a half football fields) between the future development and the neighboring subdivision to the east, Ram’s Canyon. To the south, the proposed separation is 100 feet between the El Conquistador patio homes, which is a greater distance than what is currently allowed. The developer plans to plant trees in the gap between El Conquistador and the development to reduce visibility.
The proposal includes only single story homes, which several council members acknowledged as a major compromise on the builder’s behalf. Rick Morris with Richmond American said the homes will be priced differently depending on location, since some will sit right next to Oracle Road and others to the east will sit away from the street and have acres of open space views to the rear.
The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended approval of the proposed zoning amendment. The design is in accordance with approved uses dictated by the Your Voice, Our Future general plan.
“We feel it’s appropriate,” Robert Longaker from The WLB Group told council. “We feel the land can accept it, we feel it’s fully consistent with surrounding development, there is existing infrastructure in the area, roadways, sewer, water, all the valuable utilities, all the things that you need to support development, [which] makes more efficient use of the land.”
During neighborhood meetings held by the developers, nearby residents expressed major concerns over increases in traffic on the busy Oracle Road, cutting down the natural topography and impacts on views of the landscape.
“Yes, there are a lot of cars at Oracle Road, we acknowledge that,” Longaker said. They hired a traffic consultant to help analyze the impact of more houses in the development. Richmond American will be making signal improvements to the area near Pusch View Lane, as well as some ramp improvements and turning lanes.
Keesler said that if the zoning amendment were to be approved, then there would be 14 more cars in the morning peak hour and 18 more cars in the evening peak hour than with the original zoning.
“When you put that in comparison, there’s 3,000 cars in the peak hour on Oracle Road,” he said.
Mayor Joe Winfield was concerned with the increased density and the slight decrease in open space. He told Longaker he wanted to see it brought back up to 75 percent. He said he prefers 10 foot setbacks, even though he acknowledged that five foot setbacks is what is permitted in the town code.
Morris, with Richmond American, responded that if the side yards get squeezed in square footage, the home itself will be narrower and have less variation.
Council member Bill Rodman said this developer and property owner has done more work to remedy the issues of neighbors than most he’s seen in his years on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“It’s given us one of the best proposals for this beautiful piece of land,” Rodman said. “We’re now going to have 70 percent that’s going to be open space forever… I don’t know how you’d develop this in any other way.”
Council member Steve Solomon agreed to this point, saying that the proposal has space set aside as a common area to be designated as legally open space. He said the proposed plan creates true open space, not “somebody’s backyard.”
“We’re not trying to design this subdivision, we have to decide between the original existing plan, or the proposed plan,” Solomon said at the meeting.
He said it’s the Planning and Zoning Commission’s responsibility to examine these types of concerns and then make recommendations to the town council. Since the commission voted unanimously to pass it, Solomon believes council should approve it too.
“The point I’m getting to is do we take our citizens’ input seriously or not? Do we take our boards’ and commissions’ recommendations seriously or not? Right now tonight we have council trying to design a subdivision, that’s not the council’s job,” Solomon said.
Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett said the one aspect of the project that gave her the most concern was the 20 feet of cut in grading.
“To take this beautiful topographical site and change the grading of it that much, I just kind of feel like in the comparison of the original and the [proposed], I prefer the original, because it’s eight feet less of cut and three feet less of fill ” Barrett said. “For me personally, that’s the thing where I feel like I can’t quite stomach driving along Oracle and Pusch View Lane for the next three years and watching those hillsides come out and knowing that I voted for that.”
Longaker said the cuts were necessary in order to make the development feasible because all the roads, the land for the lots and the utilities are connected. He said by the time it’s all finished the 20 foot cuts won’t be noticeable.
Council member Rhonda Piña said the developer has already met the requirements of the general plan, and that there is a lot of “good merit” to the project.
“While yes, there are some things that we don’t agree with, for the most part I think it does meet a balanced project,” she said.
Morris told the council that some of the adjustments they suggested are “substantial core redesigns” to the project as a whole. This could require them to redo the entire approval process.
“I value the boards and commissions… but I’m not a rubber stamp mayor,” Winfield said. “I’m going to do my best to listen to this community and try to do right by everybody.
“My intention is not to derail the project, I recognize the work that’s been done, but I believe that we can make this a better project than it currently is.”
Council voted 4-3 to continue the discussion to the April 3 council meeting so that both town staff and the developer could have time to reassess the details. Solomon, Rodman and Piña voted no.
On the April 3 agenda, the property owner and developer requested the item be continued to a date uncertain, further stalling process on this development.