Naranja Drive Thru

Office buildings and a drive-thru establishment have been proposed for the northwest corner of West Naranja and North LaCanada drives.

The intersection of North La Cañada and West Naranja drives is one of the busiest in Oro Valley. Nearby residents are no stranger to this fact, and they’re now concerned about a proposed commercial development that would fill in the last of the intersection’s empty space, at its northwest corner.

The small square lot is an island, with a variety of mixed-use developments surrounding it. There are the Cañada Hills and Copper Creek residential subdivisions, a busy commercial plaza across the street, the library, police station and town hall catty-corner and Naranja Park is just a short drive to the east.

At the first neighborhood meeting for the proposed development, Paul Oland with The WLB Group, a local planning and architecture firm, revealed their initial plan.

They hope to build a plaza with four small buildings intended for office space at about 15,000 total square feet, and a 2,500 to 3,500 square-foot restaurant or coffee shop with a drive-thru sitting at the corner of the lot, closest to the intersection.

The architecture is intended to look similar to those at the La Cholla Corporate Center across the street from the Foothills Mall on North La Cholla Boulevard.

The lot has been zoned for neighborhood or commercial office use for years, and Oland said their plan is in line with that entitlement. They are allowed to build up to three stories there, but there isn’t an anticipated desire for that kind of structure.

“Three stories doesn’t pencil too well in Oro Valley for almost anything, so we don’t see that as a real strong possibility,” Oland said at the June 25 meeting.

The development is required to be set back at least 25 feet from the PAD boundary, and 20 feet from the roadways. On the southern edge that makes contact with Naranja Drive, there is even more empty space required because the town has a designated right of way at that spot for any potential widening of Naranja Drive in the future.

In order for the developer to build a drive-thru restaurant at that street corner, they will have to obtain a variance or code amendment and a conditional use permit from the town. To accomplish that, The WLB Group will have to prove the proposed development won’t adversely affect traffic, noise and light pollution.

Several residents at the neighborhood meeting, of which about a third lived within the direct vicinity, believe they won’t be able to achieve that.

They expressed concerns over the site’s lack of an eastbound entrance on Naranja Drive, which could provoke drivers to make an illegal left turn, as has been observed on the opposite side of the street with a similar entrance into the Bruegger’s parking lot.

On busy school days, neighbors say that intersection experiences frequent traffic jams. They argued that a development on this corner would only exacerbate that problem.

Oland said they cannot formally submit their application until they conduct a traffic study, which will be completed during peak busy season in Oro Valley when both school is in session and seasonal visitors are in town. The results of that study will likely impact the way their development looks.

Other residents questioned the need for a drive-thru restaurant, when the other buildings will hold office space. There is also a concern about redundancy, with popular restaurants already located in the plaza across the street.

“On a small site, actually on any site, you need something that acts as an anchor,” Oland responded. “And on a small site, your anchor isn’t going to be a huge Walmart or something, it’s going to be something more specialized, it’s going to be more of a destination.”

He said there’s already been vocalized interest from business owners regarding the corner drive-thru space.

Since office space in Oro Valley is generally more expensive than in other parts of the greater Tucson area, the concern over potential empty offices was also high among the group. Oland assured the residents that builders wouldn’t erect an office building without prospective businesses in mind.

Another neighborhood meeting will be scheduled once The WLB Group completes a traffic study and submits its formal application.

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