Friday, March 10, 2017

Guest View-Rosalie Roszak: What Makes a Main Street?

Part 3: Oro Valley’s Main Streets Proposals

Main Streets Vision and Funding
Oro Valley’s Main Street Fact Sheet envisions Main Streets as a long term project with implementation between 2018 to 2030. It states that: “The Improvement Plan is a detailed blueprint to make Main Streets a reality. It includes designs, funding mechanisms and Town Code revisions.” It also states, “Main Streets will be achieved through public-private partnerships and various funding tools.”

The broader Draft C concept Plan mentions regional bonds and Town capital improvement programs as funding mechanisms. This type of verbiage makes a number of Town residents uneasy. What exactly does the Town mean by all this? How much will it cost area residents and taxpayers, and what will it achieve?

Main Streets workshop participants and Town planners discussed traditional Main Street areas wherein buildings are closer to sidewalks and therefore more visible, drawing pedestrians and shoppers into the centers. These types of designs would require revisions to the Town’s existing zoning and development codes. Typical suburban designs require larger building setbacks and parking areas such as we see in many of our existing retail centers.

Themes and Branding
Oro Valley’s existing retail and commercial development lacks a cohesive theme. Buildings were constructed with differing designs throughout the community, and many are not particularly attractive. The Town also acquired older commercial areas along Oracle Road to the south through annexation. Some of these will likely undergo renovations in the next decade.

Oro Valley could develop a theme or “Branding” for its commercial areas, particularly in the prime locales they are identifying as the focal points of their Main Streets Project.

Santa Barbara, Ca.
For instance, the well-known artist colony of Tubac has a recognizable entry arch, which acts as its theme. Other areas have also adopted unifying themes or “Branding” which help identify the community. Santa Barbara’s well known Spanish Mission style evolved from the major 1925 earthquake which destroyed many of the downtown buildings. When the city was being rebuilt, the Architectural Commission decided upon the Spanish Colonial Revival style for its downtown area, and that decision made the city famous. This in turn resulted in a strict architecture code, particularly in the central downtown area, which remains in effect today.

Oro Valley can resolve to adopt a “theme” or branding for its new development projects and for redevelopment of prior uses. Much of this can be incorporated through zoning and development codes, but the Town has neither the funds nor expertise to enact major developments on its own. The Town, however, can encourage private developers to carry out its theme in future developments.

Carmel, Ca.
Improving Pedestrian Access and Walkability
More than 3,000 Oro Valley residents live within a half-mile to one-mile walking vicinity of these centers. The Town could improve walkability to the centers and pedestrian access at the targeted intersection of LaCanada and Lambert as an initial step toward their “Main Street” concept. The Town could also provide some benches on LaCanada along the one mile stretch between Lambert and Naranja as an immediate enhancement towards walkability. Most successful downtown redevelopment areas include benches for people to rest on, sit and visit.

A mile is a long way to walk for many. A couple of benches along the route would encourage more residents to make that walk. Similarly, some benches and shade trees could be provided along Lambert Lane between LaCanada and Oracle Roads. Pedestrians will more likely frequent an area, if it is made easier and more inviting to do so. A signal controlled pedestrian walkway at Canada Hills Drive and LaCanada would improve access and safety for walkers heading to the commercial destinations at Lambert and LaCanada.

Transforming Vision into Reality
In summary, some of the Town’s proposed ideas for Main Streets appear doable if enough residents are interested to advance them. Other ideas seem less likely to achieve, such as narrowing the already busy LaCanada Drive to add street parking. The Main Streets Project as envisioned will need cooperation from multiple sources to include the citizens, Town Government, and the Development Community. The project will also need to address the viability of proposed funding, particularly if significant public monies are needed to implement some of the project proposals.
Rosalie Roszak is a 25 year resident of Oro Valley, moving here in 1992 with husband Rudy, in search of good air quality. She grew up in Flushing, New York and has resided in Washington, D.C., Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. She has a Master’s Degree in Urban Economics from University of California Santa Barbara, and worked for more than 40 years in the Commercial Real Estate Appraisal and Economic Consulting fields before recently retiring. 

Rudy Roszak also contributed to this article. Rudy was an Oro Valley Town Councilmember in 1995-1996. He has also resided in a number of urban communities, including 25 years in Oro Valley. Both Rudy and Rosalie may often be found walking in Oro Valley’s multi use trails and parks.