Wednesday, March 8, 2017

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

Part 2: Oro Valley’s “Four Corners” Main Street Locations

LaCanada and Lambert Intersection
The Town of Oro Valley incorporated in 1974 with no commercial shopping areas. The saying was “you can’t even buy a loaf of bread in Oro Valley.” When we moved into the Canada Hills neighborhood in 1992, the nearest grocery store, gas station and other services were five miles distant.

Lambert and LaCanada is one of the two areas that the Town is considering for their “Main Street” focal points. Although the area is currently built out with existing uses, Town Planners indicate that these uses might not always remain or might evolve within the next few years. Most particularly, the Valero gas station on the NE corner and the vacant retail “box” building on the SE corner might evolve into new uses.

The center on the SW corner with Harvest and Café Torino Restaurants is another of the Town’s targeted corners. This center has long had two vacant pads.

The NE Corner
Area residents were thrilled when the new Smitty’s Supermarket opened at the corner of LaCanada and Lambert in 1993. This store was a marvel and included a food court with a sandwich shop, a yogurt store, and a Cinnabon store. It also contained a small Bank of America branch, a commercial postal store, and an optometrist. We were in heaven.

The market evolved from Smitty’s to Smith’s and then to Fry’s Food Stores. The strip retail buildings were developed both south and north of the original supermarket building.

Although some area residents walk to Fry’s, mostly it was designed to service the suburban automobile culture. Oro Valley’s existing retail centers all fit this model with a large automobile parking area at the front with the stores at the rear of the parking areas. Only the recently developed San Dorado Center on Oracle Road has a different feel, with the stores located closer to the street frontage.

An Oro Valley Future "Main Street"?
Lambert Lane and LaCanada
Traditional Main Streets conversely developed for pedestrian use. They are walkable and street parking is more towards the rear and in less abundance. Can Oro Valley’s existing retail be modified to more resemble traditional Main Street areas?

The SE Corner
A corner Osco Pharmacy was the initial building at the shopping center on the SE corner, but had a short life span, unable to compete with the established Walgreen’s and Fry’s Pharmacy. This building remained vacant for several years until being occupied by a Big 5 Retail store. Big 5 vacated about two years ago and the building remains vacant.

The two retail strip buildings, one fronting along Lambert and one along LaCanada, were opened about 2008/2009, right as the recession hit. These both had substantial vacancy until about two years ago and are now almost fully leased.

NW and SW Corners
The development of Walgreen’s went smoothly, but somehow a fire station later emerged at the rear of that site. Neighbors fought development on the SW corner, and were able to obtain concessions on building heights, landscape buffers, and such. This corner now has two retail buildings anchored by Harvest and Café Torino’s and has proven to be a very popular center.

Managing the balance between needed amenities and small town charm
Oro Valley residents and Town planners did recognize LaCanada and Lambert as a main commercial corner for the Town around the time of the original Smitty’s Supermarket construction. The proposal to build a gas station at the NE corner of LaCanada and Lambert around 1995 created the first of several major use contentions. Many residents believed a gas station was not a good use for the Town’s most important or “gateway” corner. Others welcomed the convenience.

The Planning Commission and Town Council held public hearings. It seemed as if 50% of residents wanted the gas station and 50% were opposed, believing such uses belonged along Oracle Road. The gas station was built and occupies that main corner today. Several years ago, Fry’s lobbied to add their own gas station, and now we have two along that stretch of LaCanada.

Planning successful development for a “Main Street” feel
Although the Town of Oro Valley may have ideas as to what types of development they would like to encourage at these potential sites, ultimately private development will be up to developers and land owners. Cities and Towns do not typically fare well when they attempt forays into actual developments. Even experienced developers don’t always fare well. If their projects enter the market at the wrong time, such as the 2008 recession, they may sit vacant for a number of years.

Ultimately it will be the willingness of private developers to bring new monies to the Oro Valley community, which will spur both new and redevelopment/repurposing efforts in the Town’s existing retail properties and for future proposed retail and commercial projects. That said, there are some steps that the Town could make in encouraging re-uses for these areas, that are more in keeping with a “Main Street” theme.

Part 3: “Oro Valley’s Main Street Proposals” will be published on Friday.
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 also 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.