Oro Valley is working to position itself more favorably in the eyes of science and technology companies looking for a new base of operations. 

The town took a step in that direction late last month when the council unanimously approved expanding the borders of its previously established Economic Expansion Zone (also known as EEZ).

The council originally adopted the EEZ in 2012 “with the purpose of encouraging economic development in Innovation Park,” according to town documents. The designation reduced the time it takes to establish or expand a business by eliminating the public meeting and hearing process for site plans for established uses within the Tech Park-zoned parcels. The approval process is instead handled by town staff, with the council retaining an option to appeal any decision. A 600-foot buffer for residential parcels was also put in place.

The March 21 amendment to the code expands the EEZ by dropping the buffer to include all tech park parcels within Innovation Park (north from East Tangerine Road at East Innovation Park Drive), as well as all tech park-zoned parcels within the town. The expansion in Innovation Park constitutes roughly 93 acres of additional land, with 17 acres in the Miller Ranch area, 39 acres in the Foothills Business Park, 4 acres at the self storage on North Oracle Road and eight acres near the El Conquistador on Oracle.

The implementation (and expansion) of the EEZ helps keep the town in the conversation when big businesses are on the hunt for a new home for operations, said Oro Valley planning manager and planning and zoning administrator Bayer Vella. While the national races for companies like Amazon may be fought with saguaro, Vella said Oro Valley looks to approach companies with “shovel-ready” sites that take roughly 12 to 15 months to complete after a commitment is made.

“For us to be competitive, even regionally, much less statewide or nationwide, you have to have sites that are shovel-ready,” Vella said. “So when somebody wants to make that commitment, we can guarantee the town can do what it takes to meet those time demands while maintaining the design standards.”

Those time demands are met because potential rezoning and general plan amendment processes are eliminated, which Vella said could take more than a year to complete when accounting for various neighborhood meetings and consideration of feedback.

When handling new or expanding business within the EEZ, Vella said that approval is met after each department—Engineering, Zoning, Water, etc.—approve of the project’s various design aspects. Council will still have the opportunity to appeal a decision made by staff, a move not yet utilized.

Since implementation, several projects have developed under the EEZ, including Securaplane Technologies, Ventana Roche Medical Systems and the Tucson Orthopedic Institute. With a handful of companies to back the designation, Vella said that expanding the boundaries made sense.

“We have a track record now, and within the EEZ we’ve had four or five projects go through…. Bringing this code back up was timely in that we can say ‘Look, we’ve had some success with this, it’s resulted in well-design, attractive buildings that are laid out really well,’” he said.

Vella said that the direction for such a development strategy originated with Sun Corridor Inc., the “transformative economic development organization” which aims to foster business development throughout Arizona.

Sun Corridor President and CEO Joe Snell told town officials researching the importance of the expanded Economic Expansion Zone that over the past three years, the organization has seen commercial and industrial inventory shrink by three percentage points. 

“As existing space becomes less available, companies will gravitate to build-to-suit options and developers will start to construct speculative space in anticipation of the new demand,” Snell said. “It is of utmost importance that communities within our region simplify and make more certain the development process. Roadblocks and complications in the process will turn prospective companies away and make our region less competitive.”

Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Perry told council members at the March 21 meeting that more job creation was vital for the long-term prosperity of the town. He said the application of the EEZ has helped to create jobs in the community so that residents can find work where they live.

If projects are forced to wait a year just to reach approval, Perry said they’re likely to find somewhere else to develop—like the UA Tech Park. 

“For Oro Valley to recruit new technology businesses, and to grow the businesses we already have, it’s vital that properly zoned projects be able to get on the ground and running as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Perry told Tucson Local Media via email. “There’s plenty of shovel-ready competition out there. EEZ helps us get more firmly into the game.

Mayor Satish Hiremath said the expansion of the EEZ not only allows the town to become more competitive, but allows for parity among owners of tech park-zoned parcels.

Town documents also refer to the recently completed Main Streets study, which concluded that Oro Valley needs to develop strategies for maximizing the potential of existing open space as the town reaches build out. According to the town, the expansion of the EEZ “will serve to maximize the potential of increasingly restricted development” while offering all property owners “the same competitive advantage in the market.”

Hiremath said that restricting the zone to part of Innovation Park was an oversight of council in 2012 due to being “so focused” on developing that part of the town. The mayor said that eventually, councilmembers realized it was time for all tech park regions to benefit from the process.

“Why is Innovation Park reaping all the benefits, while others don’t?” Hiremath said.

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