Monday, July 27, 2020

Council Deadlocks on Pre Grading Lots Without Site Plan

Current process retained
At its July 15  meeting , the Oro Valley Town Council deadlocked on a measure that would have allowed staff to approve site grading in the town's Economic Expansion Zone (see panel) without a site plan and without council review.

Town staff wanted to replace the current process that requires site plans and plant removal plans to be submitted for grading to occur. Staff reviews this. If approved by staff, the council has 20-days to consider it if it wishes to do so. The time frame is about 4 months.

Make sites shovel-ready
The staff proposal would create "shovel ready sites." In addition, staff would conduct open houses when development is within 100 feet of a residential area. According to staff, the entire process would take about a month.

Opposing views
On one hand, there were developer friendly council members Solomon, Rodman and Pina arguing to allow pre-grading of land without council oversight in EEZ Zones, land that may lay unused for years, in the hope that someone someday will build something on it.
Oro Valley EEZ Sites

On the other hand, there were three council members, Mayor Winfield, Vice Mayor Barrett, and member Nicolson focused on what this would mean to the land to for residents of our community, residents who live here because the beauty of our community.

There are many examples of pre-graded land that lay fallow in Oro Valley
There is the Mercado del Rio project, which is on Lambert Lane, west of Oracle. There is Nakoma Sky which is behind Home Depot. There is most of the Oro Valley Marketplace.

As you drive around town, you can see pre-graded lots that have nothing built on them, like the one on the NW corner of La Canada and Naranja. These sites have sat vacant for years.

The argument for
Town Economic Development Director JJ Johnston argues that pre grading is necessary to attract business to build here. “Site selection firms want ‘shovel ready’ sites” According to Johnston, “It is a prerequisite before a site selector will even consider a site.” Allowing pre-grading merely makes us competitive with other communities. “We won’t even get to the table if we don’t check those boxes.” Pre grading is a box that must be checked.

Council Member Rodman agrees: “I share your concern but…” His thesis: We established a professional Economic Development Department (under the previous administration).This is what they say we need. this is what we should give them.”

Council Member Solomon agrees” “JJ is the expert. He is the one telling us what we need to do.” He argued (3:22:35) that Oro Valley has to do this, has to attract businesses, or the town will have to institute a property tax because it will not general enough sales revenue.”

The argument against 
Imagine, as Vice Mayor Barrett noted at the meeting, the bleak view of pre graded sites in Innovation Park when one looks at it from across Big Wash or as seen as one travels down Tangerine. These lots once had desert plants would now be large plots of dirt that could lay that way for years.

Mayor Winfield noted that “Oro Valley is not just another community. We attract business because of our quality of life.” He argued that the current process for grading approval takes four months, according to town staff. The proposed process would take about two months. He argued that the current process can be improved time wise. “We are not talking about doing away with grading. The current process is a safeguard…. Mr. Simon (owner of Innovation Park) can ask for pre grading right now. I don’t see the impediment” caused by the current process.

Because "No one cares what's built on a site once it is graded." 
Vice Mayor Barrett noted that developers have told her that "no one cares what's built on a site once it is graded." This troubling to her because it essentially means that the lot will go to the highest bidder, regardless of the use. And council will have no say in that. "Once we grant an entitlement to a landowner, we can't take it back."

Current procedure stands
Council deadlocked on a motion to approve changes but retain the current EEZ lot grading procedure. They also deadlocked on a motion for staff approved pre-grading.  The vote was close. Mayor Winfield, Vice Mayor Barrett and Council Member Nicolson voted in favor not allowing staff approved pre grading. Council Members Pena, Rodman, and Solomon voted against. Council Member Joyce-Ivey abstained, stating that she needed more information.

The result is that the current procedures stand.

Town will need to sell the virtues of Oro Valley 
“We will have to work a lot more creatively without having this tool in our toolkit,” Johnston noted during the meeting.

JJ Johnston will have take a different tac in selling the virtues of Oro Valley to site selectors, one that requires more thought and innovation than trying to conform to a “check the box” selection process.