Monday, April 1, 2019

Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). Oro Valley’s Trojan Horse. Part 1.

Say Hello to CEDS and Good-bye to Oro Valley’s Uniqueness
The Town of Oro Valley, under the leadership of its Town Manager, Mary Jacobs, and her Community and Economic Development Manager, J.J. Johnston, have published a 19-page document that proposes to eradicate all the uniqueness that is left in Oro Valley.

The cover of the document shows the sunset behind a saguaro and a view of the foothills. After reading the contents of this report, a more fitting cover would be a picture of bladed desert and smiles on the faces of all the builders and developers.

This document is divided into two different strategies. Half of the document develops a strategy for attracting business, attracting primary employers, a market strategy, and attracting talent. This is all commendable and worthwhile, but then comes…

The Trojan Horse
The document then goes into modifying codes and ways to improve planning efficiencies. This part of the CEDS confirms why the people elected a new mayor and council majority in 2018. It appears that Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Johnston have not altered their thinking as a result of the election. They utilize half of this document to combine economic development with land development! It makes one wonder if the ousted Hiremath regime is running a shadow government.

From Page 11 of the CEDS report:
“…the Town does not have a reputation of moving at the ‘speed of business.’”
The report uses the EEZ Town Code (Economic Expansion Zone) as an example of how all commercial and employment center development could be accelerated. The EEZ code was established to make development easier in Innovation Park by reducing the time required to establish a new business or expand an existing business. This streamlined review process allows the developer to bypass the public participation process (no Neighborhood Meetings for neighbors to voice their concerns) and no Planning and Zoning Commission review.

The code originally allowed for a developer to come in and explain their proposal during an Open House. The proposal would then fast-track from Open House to a Town Council vote. However, there were stipulations that included that the developer could not request a change to the existing zoning, AND there could be no houses within 600 feet of the proposal. It was under this code that Securaplane and Tucson Orthopedic were built. The Hiremath regime later amended the code to delete the 600 foot requirement.

The current EEZ Code is only pertinent in dedicated Tech Parks.

The CEDS report suggests that ALL commercial and employment development should follow the example of the EEZ.
“Resident input is important, but it should be noted that most communities apply the same administrative review process to commercially-zoned properties as the Town has introduced in the EEZ zone.”
Can you imagine the establishment of Oro Valley Marketplace without citizen input? Citizens did not want the storefronts facing Oracle and Tangerine. Vestar reversed the layout and placed the storefronts towards the interior. Citizens also fought and won their argument against illuminated signs facing Oracle and Tangerine in order to preserve the beauty of those scenic corridors.  Mr. Johnston and Ms. Jacobs, please take note: Oro Valley is not like most communities and we would like to remain that way.

(Note:  In another slap in the face to citizens, in March 2015, Hiremath, Hornat, Snider, and Waters broke that 9-year long agreement, allowing Vestar to add illuminated signs along Oracle and Tangerine).

The CEDS report praises Tucson’s fast-track building permits:
“The City of Tucson tapped into the Intergovernmental Agreement it had executed with Pima County to utilize the resources of the County’s building plan review team for the recently approved Amazon building. Pima County was able to complete its full review and position the City of Tucson to issue a building permit within one week. That’s the kind of speed of business major prospects expect in a highly competitive environment.”
Our Town officials need to read the General Plan. We are neither Tucson nor Pima County and we should not be lowering our standards to theirs. We do not want to follow their example. It was their poor examples that motivated us to incorporate in the first place.

The CEDS report criticizes Oro Valley’s landscaping requirements:
“Examples of other cost impacts to commercial developments include such things as excessive landscaping requirements, the amount of open space dedication required, architectural design requirements, some public infrastructure requirements, and the 1% public art requirement.”
Oro Valley’s landscape requirements, architectural standards, and open space requirements are what separate us from the “average” community. Public art is a mainstay in Oro Valley and has always been a ground rule for commercial development. Just because SAHBA (Southern Arizona Home Builders Association) and the Pima Metro Alliance would rather pocket the 1% is not a reason to eliminate it. Public art is another reason that Oro Valley is unique.

The CEDS report criticizes our sign codes:
“A number of interviewees also identified restrictions in the Town’s sign code as inhibiting awareness of drive-by traffic for successful retail enterprises, particularly along the 55 mph Oracle Road corridor.”
You can read the entire CEDS Report HERE

Part 2 will be published on Wednesday and includes the list of the 90 business and industry leaders and government officials who were interviewed for the CEDS report.