An impassioned, standing room only crowd turned out for the Nov. 20 Oro Valley Town Council meeting seeking to ensure a commitment from the town to pursue an alternative site for future town buildings rather than placing them on the Naranja Town Site.
They got that commitment in a unanimous 4-0 vote by the council to accept a plan outlining proposed recreational and cultural activities for the 212-acre site on the north side of Naranja Drive, one-half mile east of La Canada Drive and to direct Town Manager Chuck Sweet to research alternative sites within the town where needed maintenance and related town facilities can be placed.
Councilmember Paula Abbott was absent.
Sweet is to return to the council with a list of alternative sites and an analysis of land acquisition costs within 120 days.
The council's vote dissolving a Naranja Town Site Master Plan Task Force and executive committee also included having the town's Budget and Bond Committee review the master plan developed for Naranja and report back within 120 days on funding alternatives and funding schedules for implementation of the plan.
Back in September, after nearly 15 months of hearings and community comment, a Naranja Town Site Executive Committee unanimously approved task force recommendations for locating athletic fields, pools and tennis courts, a community center, amphitheater, performing arts center, trails and other amenities at Naranja.
That task force also was asked late in the game to develop plans for locating town buildings on 12 to 15 acres within the site, including a 11,000 square-foot, two-story community center on 2.3 acres, operations and maintenance quarters in three two-story buildings on 7.8 acres and a Police Department training center on three acres.
The panel also was asked to make a recommendation as to whether the buildings should be grouped in one area or spread out on the site. The panel suggested a grouping of buildings, but did so only because of orders from the Town Council, making it clear that neither the public at large nor the panel supported placing public buildings on the site.
Maps showing locations of the buildings as grouped and spread out were sent to the executive committee which refused to support either proposal and sent them on to the Town Council with a recommendation that alternative sites be sought for the town buildings.
Opposition to town buildings at the site continued to grow throughout the process.
At the Nov. 20 council meeting, Vice Mayor Dick Johnson acknowledged, as he had previously, that the town "screwed up" by not identifying Naranja "from the get go" as a possible site for town buildings to accommodate growth, but said it had always been the town's intent to look at alternative sites.
"The process is not over," Sweet stressed. "Based on the turnout here tonight and the mail we received, we will continue to explore project alternatives and costs."
Donald Chatfield, chairman of the Master Plan Executive Comm-ittee and former town community development director, apologized to the council for the committee's inability to fulfill a task the council had charged to it in recommending town facilities at Naranja. That charge, Chatfield said, put the committee "in a tough position," but the process might have unfolded differently had the committee been informed earlier of the town's desires.
His committee's refusal to endorse town facilities at Naranja wasn't a reflection of lack of support for the town or staff but rather a reflection of citizens' views as to whether doing so was an appropriate land use, Chatfield said. The committee simply didn't want to transfer problems the town was having in one area in terms of moving its public works operations off Calle Concordia to the Naranja site, he said.
Chatfield said his committee had heard a great deal from the town about the additional cost involved in purchasing an alternative site. A similar argument was often made by developers when he was community development director and developers were being told to come up with a better plan, he said.
The town's response to developers then was that higher standards had to be met in Oro Valley because of its commitment to being a community of excellence, Chatfield said.
"So our message to you is that while not putting town facilities on Naranja may cost you more, we urge you to continue building a community of excellence."
Preceding Chatfield, Dick Eggerding, chairman of the task force responsible for shepherding a master plan for Naranja through a citizen participation process, tried to sum up that process.
"I hardly know where to start when you congeal and try to condense 15 months of hearings, thousands of pieces of paper and hundreds of people telling you what should be on that park site," Eggerding told the council. "We tried to be fair. We tried to listen to everyone. We tried to give everybody a fair audience," representing the desires of the 30,000 people in the community, including proposals for such things as an underground aquarium and a victory garden.
"There is a basic corps of people who have a passion for a variety of things that represent the cultural and recreational base of this community," Eggerding said. "And I think what has been done here, we've created a crown jewel that addresses all those basic recreational and cultural ideas that have been presented to us. And I would say to you these ideas that were presented to us were voted on in a very meaningful fashion. We didn't just sit around and say well, that one is better than blah blah. We did it in a very strategic way."
Eggerding underscored the importance of examining optional sites and the finances involved in those petitions.
"Financing aspects were never addressed by the task force," Eggerding said. "I think the public needs to be aware that this is going to cost some money. I'm guessing $50 million to $60 million. And you say, wow, that's awful. How can we do that?
"How can we not do it, living in a community like Oro Valley that has all the substance and the intellect and the cultural base and the recreational base and we've got this crown jewel," he said.
Eggerding urged the council to develop the park all at once.
"I know there's a lot of talk about phasing this and phasing that, but if you phase it, you're going to pay twice the money you'd pay if you'd bite the bullet and come right out and do it."
Based on SWAG, which Eggerding defined as "Scientific Wild A-- Guessing,” those costs shouldn't amount to more than $200 to $250 a year per family, or a Big Mac and a Coke a week, he said.
"Is the public willing to give that up? I don't know," Eggerding said. "I think it's going to take a marketing job to sell this to the public, but if you resolve the public works issue, which I know you will, you will do it in an intelligent way.
"Those same people who have the same passion about that will also have the passion to go out and help us support the park site," Eggerding said.
Robert Bischof, a leading critic of any plan to locate town buildings at Naranja, told the council he was "heartened" by the town's commitment to explore alternative sites rather than place maintenance facilities and storage yards in a recreational area.
In other action, the council awarded the largest construction contract in town history in accepting an $8.8 million bid from Hunter Contracting Inc. for the widening of Tangerine Road.
Plans call for construction to begin in July on widening Tangerine to four lanes from two lanes from First Avenue to La Canada Drive, building two pedestrian underpasses, drainage structures, bike paths and landscaping. Artwork will be placed at various locations within the project, a new traffic signal will be installed at the La Canada/Tangerine intersection and the traffic signal at First and Tangerine, along with the existing water line along the roads will be modified.
The existing two lanes will be left in place until work on the two new lanes is finished. The goal is to take some of the pressure off the Oracle Road and First Avenue area, one of the worst areas in terms of road quality, by shifting traffic west to La Canada and north to Tangerine and to make this stretch safer for both motorists and pedestrians alike with changes in road alignment, drainage improvements and new shoulders. Rubberized asphalt will be used in the construction to reduce noise.
The council also approved initiating the process to annex 251 acres in the county bounded by Overton Road on the south, La Cholla Boulevard on the west and the town limits on the north and east. The action was taken in response to requests from residents in the La Cholla -Lucero Road area. Rezoning also was approved to enable A.F. Sterling Homes to build 72 single-family homes on 56.7 acres at the southeast corner of La Canada extended and Moore Road. A contribution of $1,2000 per home is being made to the Amphitheater Public Schools to help alleviate potential overcrowding of schools in the future.