In a single evening, Oro Valley's aesthetic advisory body swept out a "beautiful" architectural concept because of bright accent colors and ushered in a brown and beige drugstore.
In both cases, the Development Review Board acted in the name of a special piece of zoning meant to protect views of the Catalinas - the Oracle Road Scenic Corridor District Overlay.
At its Nov. 12 meeting, the DRB voted 5- 2 to deny bright blue and yellow accent colors at the roofline of a proposed Southern Arizona Glassworks building. The exposed concrete masonry and adobe building will be located in Foothills Business Park off Oracle Road and East Hanley Boulevard just south of the Honeywell plant.
Last month, the DRB approved the building's design but directed architect Randel Jacob of Randel Jacob Design Group to return with a more muted color scheme.
"Within the Oracle overlay, bright colors are specifically discouraged and by the same token, indigenous colors and desert colors are promoted," observed the town's senior planner Bayer Vella at the Nov. 12 meeting. "It's entirely within the DRB's purview to figure out what that means."
Explaining his design philosophy, architect Jacob said, "What I see as desert colors are the blues and yellows, pinks and purples at sunset, the different colors that occur during the desert in bloom and also the sky itself, with its ever changing shades of blues."
DRB member Richard Feinberg held a narrower view. "We asked you to bring alternative colors that would be muted and toned down. And I was extremely disappointed when we went on the site and rather than choosing to follow our directives you came with colors that were actually more loud and more garish than the sample that we are presented with (earlier)," he told the architect. "And I really am disappointed because you are obviously a good architect and you have a lot of expertise and talent and yet I think you really have to go back to school and learn about what colors are. It doesn't seem to me you understand what toned down or muted means."
DRB member Conny Culver argued that Jacob followed instructions to the letter. "With all due respect, you did bring in other colors that were toned down," she told Jacob. "I found the toned-down colors were not as attractive as the ones you proposed. Personally, I compliment you on following our direction and showing us the samples side by side at the site." Culver and Mary Caswell cast the only two votes to approve the colors.
"You're opening up a Pandora's box if you allow yellow and blue this time around, the next time around you can rest assured that somebody's going to come in here and tell you that their orange is compatible with ocotillos in bloom and then where do you go?" asked Art Segal during the call to the audience portion of the meeting. "Everybody here knows, perhaps other than the applicant, what is meant by earth tones and what is aesthetically attractive."
"The architecture is beautiful but the colors chosen here do not blend in with the beauty of the surroundings," said Cheryl Smith, another speaker from the audience. "Those colors are fine for Best Buy, but those colors are not environmentally sensitive to our beautiful town."
"To me, desert colors don't mean just brown," said Culver. "These are vibrant and rich desert colors. To not give this design a chance we'll be shorting ourselves."
"What troubles me is that bright colors are not permitted," said DRB chairman Jim Vogelsberg. "It's not an easy decision here tonight."
Jacob said that he studied the town's guidelines before submitting his design. "My family's been here since 1890. My inspirations come from the desert and the history of this place," he said. "If desert colors are brown and beige, that should be written into the code."
At the same meeting, the DRB voted 6-1 to approve a master development plan for an 8.85-acre commercial center at the northeast corner of Oracle and Hardy roads. DRB member Jeff Weatherford excused himself from the vote because of a conflict of interest.
The first phase of the project will include a 13,800-square foot Eckerd's drugstore, a staff interpretation of a regulation in the Oracle Road Scenic Corridor District, which requires "a minimum of 50,000 square feet of gross floor area in the principal structure required for the first such pad."
"The regulation was set up to discourage fast food and other smaller pads being built before a main shopping center," explained Bryant Nodine, the town's zoning administrator. "The idea is when you have a center you want it all built as part of a comprehensive design. Essentially, the Eckerd's is the main building."
A later phase will include restaurants, offices and retail shops.
The drugstore itself will feature a palette of soft desert tones, including sand, tan and taupe, brown and cedar lumber accents and a fieldstone veneer, said project architect Brent Fike, of RHL Design Group in Scottsdale.
The property, a piece of desert lush with mature palo verde and mesquite trees, prickly pear and saguaro, slopes down to Oracle Road from an established Oro Valley neighborhood of pricey homes tucked into the foothills of Pusch Ridge.
Half a dozen of those neighbors complained to the DRB of being inadequately informed about the project. They objected to two proposed access roads off Oracle Road and another at Hardy Road, which will increase lights and traffic, a booster pump station planned by the water utility to bring adequate water to the site and a manmade drainage planned between their homes and the development.
"It should be a buffer not a drainage facility," said Barry Gillaspie, who's home abuts the property. "It's forcing an ugly situation on the neighbors."
"A landscape buffer yard can include drainage," said town planner Vella. He said the town is requiring a meandering river rock channel with accent trees and shrubs.
On the Oracle Road side of the property, the scenic corridor overlay requires a 100-foot buffer between Oracle Road and the development. The plan retains natural vegetation within that buffer except for the proposed entryways along Oracle, said Vella. The rest will be bladed and terraced.
"From the residences to the Eckerd's is a drop," he said. "The homeowners will look over the site."
The DRB has final authority in the areas of landscape and architecture, as in the case of the Southern Arizona Glassworks building, although its decisions can be appealed to the town council. The town council hears all development plans after review by the DRB.