Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Guest View-Shirl Lamonna and Diane Bristow: Is Oro Valley Main Streets Project a Road to More Taxes?

Is Oro Valley Staff Off On Yet Another Folly?
Were you, like us, confused by the postcard and Explorer advertisements about an Oro Valley Main Streets Project? Does Oro Valley really need a "downtown?" Is this what the residents want?

After all, Oro Valley is already 85% built out.

Isn’t a planned downtown area a little too late? Didn't Oro Valley already pass on this? Why didn't Oro Valley move forward with a "Town Center" that was originally planned at Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Moore Road? At one time, wasn't the strip center on Oracle and First Avenue (across from Rooney Ranch) supposed to be a gathering place? Didn't the Majority-4 tout the Community Center as a gathering place? So why does Oro Valley need a Main Streets project and who will pay for the project?

Several of us attended town staff hosted workshops (See panel below).
At these workshops, we were told that the idea of Main Streets grew from the Town Council's 2015 Strategic Plan, the Planning & Zoning fiscal years 2016 and 2017 work plans and the town's 2016 General Plan "Your Voice, Our Future" project.

Even after the workshops however, we weren't clear that the desire to "create the heart" of Oro Valley and reinvent Oro Valley was a priority to residents.
So, we checked out town staff's stated justification for investing resources to even plan this concept. After all, don't they have better things to do than look for work?

We found no compelling reason for a "Main Streets" Project
Reviewing the Oro Valley 2015 Strategic Plan, we found within the Economic Development Focus Area two strategies possibly referring to Main Streets:

  • Continue developing Steam Pump Ranch as a cultural and historical destination.
  • Evaluate the development of an entertainment district that includes music, sports, museums and private/nonprofit galleries.

From the Town’s website, we were not able to locate the Planning & Zoning Commission work plans to which the staff had referred. We did find mention of it in the "Oro Valley Main Streets Background Inventory, under Project Origin". There is mentioned a Planning & Zoning Commission Commission Work Plan – Item 3: The District… “The Work Plan identifies the District project as a high priority… includes… a complete streets policy and mixed-use zoning.”

We then reviewed the 2016 yet to be voter approved General Plan, Your Voice, Our Future (90% Completion). In the Complete Community Section, "Neighborhoods", we found Policy CC.6: “Promote the creation of unique community gathering places that are inviting, walkable, attractive and vibrant and offer commercial, entertainment or cultural activity.”

We also found Action 10, relating to Policy CC.6.: “Develop a plan for designating areas of Oro Valley that serve as the community’s gathering places."

Finally, we analyzed the Your Voice Our Future telephone survey to gain a better understanding of the backing for the project. We discovered that...

The desire of the residents for a central gathering place is as rare as the demand for golf and a restaurant at the Community Center
In other words, it is so far down on the list of wants to be irrelevant.

Our conclusions:
There is minuscule resident interest in creating a downtown
Why do we say this?
First, very few residents attended the Main Street's workshops (see panel above).

Second, the statistically valid 2013 survey of residents that was used to define portions of the 2016 General Plan did not contain a single question about a downtown or community gathering place. Few people commented on a downtown area or a central location to meet people. Only 3% of the 306 respondents believed more restaurants and dining choices were required to make Oro Valley a more complete or livable community.

Third, we imagine there will be even less resident interest in this if the residents will have to pay in any way for Main Streets. At the moment, this is considered long-range planning so cost and maintenance cos was not addressed despite direct questions on funding of the project.

Our apprehension with the Main Streets Project centers on the fact that Oro Valley Council and Staff seem to have an agenda to reinvent Oro Valley into a crowded Scottsdale-like city, despite a complete lack of community interest. Instead there is an overwhelming community's desire to retain Oro Valley's small town feel. 

Diane Bristow
Shirl Lamonna
Oro Valley Residents