Thursday, October 22, 2020

Parks and Recreation Master Plan Is Taking Shape (Part 2)

This article is the second regarding the status of the development of the 2020 Parks and Recreation Master Plan. The first article appeared yesterday.
Concept plans on display

Mike Svetz from Pros Consulting, the firm that is building the master plan, unveiled five concept plans during his discussion with the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Commission this past Tuesday.

Concept plans for the towns are site-by-site
He presented one plan for each of the five Oro Valley community parks. This is a sample of what is being proposed:
  • Community Center would get a reconfigured parking lot and replaced tennis courts
  • Kreigh Park would have basketball courts replacing the racquetball court, a relocated dog park and a new adventure play area
  • Riverfront Park would have splash pad and a dog park. Consideration would be given to changing the soccer fields into diamond fields
  • Steam Pump Ranch would have an upgraded area that is better organized for seating and possible relocation of the farmers market to the "panhandle" area
  • Naranja Park, the town's only truly regional park, would continue on its building path: More fields, as skate park and better buffering to adjacent homes
Svetz included the following critical items in the concept plan. These are items that pose a risk or safety issue:
  • Steam Pump Ranch update of the historical buildings' core
  • Playground replacement at Kreigh Park
  • Stabilizing erosion areas at Naranja Park
Spending is yet to be determine
The cost of the plan and the funding for such have yet to be determined. Regarding cost, Svetz stated that The Parks and Recreation Master Plan will have three "buckets" of spending. One will contain those items that are "life-cycle" replacements. The second will contain items that upgrade the town's parks. The third  will contain the continued spending needed to build Naranja Park.

The plan still has a long way to go...Virtual Meeting on November 12
Residents will have the opportunity to share their thinking. The town will host a virtual meeting on November 12 to discuss community needs, park classification, level of service standards, mapping and the framework for concept plans. The town will seek community input via the town's web site for a month, starting November 18. 

What's not in the plan
The plan does not include anything regarding the former Vistoso Golf Course land. This, we suspect, is because it would be unwise for the town to state a position on this while land sale negotiations, though on hold at the moment, are very much in play. The plan also did not include discussion of the program and cultural aspects of parks and recreation activities.

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How will this plan get the  town get to "Excellent"
The plan is based on a metric of the number of something in relation to a Pros Consulting standard For example, there is now one pickleball court per 7,600 residents. The Pros Consulting target is one per 4,000 residents. Therfore, according to Svetz, there is a need for eight more pickleball courts. That will bring the total to 14.  The panel that follows shows the recommended level by amenity.

What the discussion did not consider is how this plan, if implemented, will improve resident rating of the quality of recreation programs and services. According to a May staff presentation to council, only 2% of residents consider the current situation as "excellent." 91% give a current situation a fair or poor rating. "The national benchmark for excellent is 33%," according to that May staff presentation.

It is important, we think, for the plan to be measured against how it will help Oro Valley achieve excellence, rather than how it can meet or exceed "standards" for each amenity it could provide.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Parks and Recreation Master Plan Is Taking Shape (Part 1)

Parks and Recreation Master Plan Discussed
The Parks and Recreation Department discussed the progress of the Master Plan last evening with the Parks and Recreation Commission. The plan is the result of multiple months effort by the department, residents, and outside consultant, Mike Svetz, of Pros Consulting. It continues to be a work in progress, with a target completion and adoption date in April, 2021.

Current Assessment: Strong positioning in many areas
LOVE has previously reported the results of input to date on what the community wants. Last night, Svetz moved beyond this, focussing on his assessment of the current "inventory" of facilities. 
  • Oro Valley has mini parks that comprise 39 acres. These are small parks that afford little opportunity for recreation.
  • Oro Valley has high proportion of swimming pools in relation to population. This does not include the many private pools in the community.
  • There are no existing standards to measure and plan recreational and greenbelt trails against the current level of 56 acres.
  • The town has "...good distribution..." of the town's four conservation trail paths
  • The community center is in need of updating and better use of space
Future Needs: Mostly upgrading and improving... not replacing
Svetz emphasized that Oro Valley has sufficient parks and recreation space through 2035. Rather than building new space, the town should focus on improving and rehabilitating existing space. As he sees it:
  • Oro Valley needs to add 21 acres of neighborhood parks by 2035. This would bring the total to about 60 acres. A typical neighborhood park is from 3-15 acres. This would mean from 5-7 new parks.
  • The town should add amenities within the existing park system:
    • 2 baseball and/or softball diamonds
    • 3 ramadas
    • 1 basketball court
    • 1 dog park located north of Tangerine
    • 2 added multipurpose fields
    • 8 pickleball courts, since the only courts available are at the community center
    • 4,000 added square feet of indoor recreation space,
    • 1 splash
  • The town's three playgrounds need to be "dynamic", meant to draw the community as whole. They should be differentiated from HOA "static" playgrounds
Concept Plans are being developed
Svetz presented an initial cut at concept plans for the five Oro Valley parks: The community center, Naranja Park, Riverfront Park, James D. Kreigh Park, and Steam Pump Ranch. He emphasized the the final concepts mush be plans that are financially feasible.  

Tomorrow: We will highlight these concept plans in our post tomorrow, together with next steps and commissioner comments. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Fiscal Responsibility, Municipal Golf and Quality of Life Are "Top Of Mind" To LOVE Readers

What you want town council to accomplish
Fiscal responsibility, golf spending rationalization and quality of life in Oro Valley are top of mind issues for LOVE readers.  This conclusion is based on an online survey we conducted the week of October 5. We asked: "What is the one thing you want to see the new town council accomplish?"

Top Challenge: Be Fiscally Responsible
Respondents want the town to be strong financially. This is driven by the uncertain near and long term impact of Covid-19 related business and social restrictions.  

Oro Valley is an "older community." As one resident put it:  "Hold the line on spending. Many retired citizens in Oro Valley are on fixed income." Another noted that they want the town "to be able to handle unknown drains on the Town's funds from unexpected issues (like impact of Covid-19), and to be able to assist and encourage small businesses to start up successfully here in Oro Valley."

Source: Week of October 5 LOVE Survey
Others voiced similar concerns.
  • "Balance the budget and make the tough decisions that gets us there without playing games with the financials."
  • "More transparency is needed. Spending must be monitored more closely. Constituents should have the final voice as to what goes on."
There was also a concern voiced that Oro Valley's spending is inflated after years of continual spending increases since 2010. "Too much fat in budgets result in taxes higher than needed." 

Number Two: Rationalize spending on Municipal Golf 
The town's subsidizing the operation of two golf courses through a sales tax is still not a settled issue among some. They say that Oro Valley municipal golf benefits few at the expense of many. Apparently, the town's plan to reduce golf subsidy to no more than $750,000 by 2022 does not satisfy them; or perhaps they are not aware of the plan approved by council in January.
  • "Eliminate all expenses associated associated with the golf courses and community center, and stop the associated sales tax support."
  • "The expense and the paltry number of community members it actually serves. Open park space behind the homes along the course will not negatively impact property values, lots with open space behind them sell first and for a significant premium over lots that abut other lots. It's not like the course is being replaced with apartments and strip malls."
Number Three: Improve The "Quality of Life"
Some want the town to improve the town's park system. Doing such "Bolsters property values, provides recreational opportunity, promotes sense of community, attracts families" According to some, it would also help the town "Regain the reputation of one of the best places to live in the U.S."

One way to do this is to "Preserve the Vistoso golf course as a green space because it will define our town's vision of a great place to live."

Another resident noted that Oro Valley's focus on cluster zoning and small home lots is actually driving potential residents away."Stop permitting those developments with the houses sitting almost on top of each other with NO back yards! Families with kids need room for them to play. Maybe do some gardening."
Note: The results of our survey are by no means statistically representative of the thoughts of the entire community. They do provide some insight into what LOVE readers would like to see happen.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Vistoso Purchase: The Game Continues

Dickering over property value goes public
The dickering over value between Romspen LLc, the owner of the Vistoso Golf Course, and The Conservation fund went public last week. Romspen attorney Pat Lopez stated in a published article that his client had "...pointed out several erroneous calculations made on the appraisal" of the property, errors that were not addressed. 

Earlier this month, Romspen rejected the offer from The Conservation Fund for the purchase of the property. Eventually, if purchased, the land would become a preserve maintained by Oro Valley. 

Romspen wants to be paid for what the land could be worth if it were rezoned
The "erroneous calculation" is the Romspen belief that the property should be appraised based on the land's value if it was rezoned as Romspen has requested. In other words, Romspen wants to be paid for what might happen as opposed to what actually is happening. That rezoning, if approved by Council, would not happen until next year at the earliest. Council approval is by no means assured. 

The Conservation Fund wants to pay the appraised value
Valuing the land on this basis "...would be contrary to UASFLA guidelines if the appraisers ventured further (without support) in speculating the property would have a 30%, or 50%, probability in obtaining a change in zoning use," according to Mike Ford, Southwest Director of the Conservation Fund. 

In other words, The Conservation Fund will not pay what something might worth in the future. They will pay what it is worth as it is currently zoned.

Posturing will continue
It is a "no brainer" that Romspen rejected the offer. They are a "lender of last resort." They obtain financially distressed properties through bankruptcy and then, through rezoning, add value to the land because it is now zoned for a different use. That is how they earn a profit. That is what they are trying to do here. 

As we have already noted in our prior posting: "The Game Is Afoot."

Romspen has options. The Conservation Fund has options. The group "Preserve Vistoso" has options. The Town of Oro Valley has options.

We will report as events play out.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Bits and Pieces

UACI-Oro Valley Seeks Applicants
"Final call for startup applications! UACI has teamed up with the Bioindustry Organization of Southern Arizona (BIOSA) for another Sponsored Launch program! One biotech startup company will receive a sponsored year's admission at the brand-new biotech incubator, UACI at Oro Valley. Included with entrance into the program and space at the new location, the startup will also be awarded a cash prize of $5,000. The total package value is $15,000 and is funded by the generous support of BIOSA. Interested applicants should not delay. Deadline is approaching." (Source)
Oro Valley Covid-19 case rate: 8 per 1,000 residents
We are eight months into the Covid-19 nightmare.  As of yesterday, there have been 400 cases of Covid-19 in Oro Valley, according to the state's statistics, That's a case rate of 8 per 1,000 residents. That is remarkable. Oro Valley has a high proportion of older citizens, including a number of senior care facilities.
October 29: Winfield "State of the Town Address"
Mayor Winfield will give the annual "State of the Town" talk next Thursday at 8:30am. You can watch it free via livestream. You have to signup and register to watch it at this link. The talk is sponsored by the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"The 2020 Oro Valley State of the Town event will be like no other! We’re going virtual, expecting between 750 and 1,000 viewers for a combination live and pre-recorded address by Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield. Don’t miss out on your chance to reach this broad audience at a major, annual, community happening!" (Source)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Town Resident Wins Town Code Change

Town staff can approve minor build setback variances
The Town council approved a resolution last week that allows towns staff to approve minor setback variances on properties. The term "minor" is a variance that is less than 10% of the required setback. 

The measure was proposed in response to a case on which LOVE reported in August. You can read about that case here. The Board of Adjustment rigorously had applied state code to reject an appeal for a 2.5 foot variance for  a garage on an historical property. The vote was 3-2.

Applies to individual residences only... not developer homes
The resolution applies to properties that are owned by individuals. So, the measure can not be applied by developers in creating new homes. Staff will make decisions on an individual basis, according to Town Planner Hannah Oden and would only approve such if there were not objections form abutters or other nearby neighbors.

According to Oden, the staff approval process puts Oro Valley in line with several other Oro Valley communities and with the county. It is also in compliance with state law. Also the individual applying for the variance can appeal a staff denial of the request to the Board of Adjustment.

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Unanimous support and approval
During the public hearing, there were no objections raised. Oro Valley homeowner Tracey Alexander, who is the owner of the home whose request was denied by the Board of Appeals, spoke in approval, thanking town staff for creating a "common sense" solution. Council members Solomon and Barrett also opined in favor of the measure. 

The measure passed unanimously.

Increases staff power.. Leaves Planning and Zoning Commission and Council out of the loop
The council decision does increase the power of staff to make Planning and Zoning decisions that impact your lives without seeking Council approval. As we wrote last week, staff can now approve, with little to no public input, the pre grading of land in Innovation Park. Grading was never allowed unless use was known and council had oversight. 

The measure did not consider making a setback variance request something that goes through the town's normal process. First, it goes to staff for review. Next, it goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review. Finally it goes to council for final decision.

Our codes are there for a reason
In addition, this new resolution, though in line with what some other Arizona jurisdictions and allowed by state law, circumvents the intent of the original ordinance. This view was expressed by one resident in an email to some council members.

"Our Codes are there for a reason. They are there to protect the Citizens and to ensure that everyone is treated equally... If an individual desires to be treated differently, and request a variance to the code, their avenue is to go the Board of Adjustment. This is a Board of fellow citizens whose decision to allow for the requested is based on State Law." 

The problem with that in the case of a minor setback request, one that appears to make great sense, is that the criteria fo Board of Adjustment approval are very strict when applied exactly as written.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Town Must Allow Recreational Pot Sales If Prop 207 Passes

Town staff wants to evaluate recreational pot impact on code from Proposition 207
Planning Director, Bayer Vella, will ask the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday for approval to look into the impact of legalized recreational pot on town code.  "Proposition 207, “Smart and Safe Arizona Act”, is on the November ballot to "authorize the sale, use, cultivation, processing, transport, manufacturing, testing etc. of recreational marijuana". 

If approved, the proposition would go into effect on November 4 (once the vote is certified). In preparation of potential voter approval, it is imperative for jurisdictions to update all applicable codes to regulate recreational marijuana before it goes into effect. Initiation will direct staff to review existing code and propose changes for conformance with Proposition 207 should it be approved." (Source)"

Town can't prohibit recreational pot sales
According to the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, "code changes need to be in place prior to a potential successful vote of the measure to insure that the Town has proper authority to regulate placement of recreational marijuana sales establishments in the community.

Proposition 207 does not allow municipalities to prohibit such sales."

Prop 207 matters to Oro Valley 
Vote "No" on 207 if you want Oro Valley to remain pot free. Vote "Yes" if you think selling recreational pot in Oro Valley is a good thing.