September 7, 2005 - Nine months of extensive planning in collaboration with Scottsdale-based architectural firm Swaback Partners culminated last week in a bold presentation to the Marana Town Council showcasing what town officials have in mind for the urban future of northern Marana.
Public meetings in Continental Ranch, Dove Mountain and northern Marana are scheduled to take place throughout the month to allow residents to give input on a package of plans that detail the town's vision for a future mixed-use community around the Marana Municipal Complex. The proposed plans include new land use configurations for northern Marana, new roads to accommodate growth, and designs showing what the Town Center will look like after both residential and commercial components develop along Marana Main Street and Civic Center Drive.
Parts of the Town Center Plan, Northwest Land Use Plan and Northwest Transportation Plan are expected to be available on the town's Web site. The town has paid Swaback Partners $158,440 for consulting services since December to help develop the plans, said Roy Cuaron, Marana's finance director.
Jeff Denzak, a representative from Swaback Partners, gave a 45-minute presentation that unveiled the proposed plans during an Aug. 30 study session. It's important to note that these are works in progress, he said, adding that the town should work to solidify the designs and plans in the coming month and then move toward adopting them as policies and standards.
"The marketing, the promoting of this Town Center - starting today with this public meeting - is going to be so critical to the success over the years of this Town Center," he said. "All of us need to promote it constantly and support what can, and hopefully what will, happen."
Denzak's presentation told the story of a vibrant, mixed-use community complete with commercial retail outlets and multistory buildings lining Marana's future downtown streets. Conceptual drawings detailed a 45-room boutique hotel rising four stories high just down the street from the Marana Municipal Complex. Denzak noted, however, that no building would be taller than the municipal complex, which should remain the dominant fixture of the Town Center area.
"The strategy is to create development within the Town Center that can compliment this facility and really create a dynamic, special Town Center for the whole town," he said.
The plans call for creating a unique downtown area with a "brand identity" that will be made possible through pedestrian pathways, unique building facades, topnotch landscaping and Spanish Renaissance Revival architectural styles. Rather than creating the look of one solid mass of buildings along Marana Main Street, the plans propose constructing buildings so that each shop or business has its own character that is reflected in its architecture.
Streetscapes shown in drawings depict an inviting community with upscale shops and outdoor cafes where customers can have lunch in the shade. The plans show covered walkways and shaded areas, celebrating alleyways and street corners.
Aside from the already-existing municipal complex and fire station, other components proposed to line Marana's future downtown streets include another Northwest Fire/Rescue District building, a senior center, a visitor information center, buildings for civic expansion, a retail bank, a library, links to community parks, and areas called Founder's Green, Town Center Plaza and Marana Square.
A grassy area around the municipal complex could feature a stage for special events such as Friday night movies and farmers markets. Several condominiums and lofts also would fit into the plan, Denzak said, adding that this is "business not as usual."
Denzak compared the 106-acre Town Center to those town centers developed in Yorkship Village in New Jersey and in Carefree. At buildout, the Marana Town Center will include more than 150,000 square feet of commercial space, according to the proposal.
Assistant Town Manager Jim Mazzocco gave a brief presentation during which he said an amendment to the Rancho Marana Specific Plan will include the Marana Town Center design guidelines developed by Swaback Partners for about 40 acres of private land surrounding the new Marana Municipal Complex.
The land use plan will help steer growth in northwest Marana in coordination with a well-designed town center, Mazzocco said, adding that the entire northwest plan covers 38,000 acres, or about half the town.
"We're working very hard to try to plan northern Marana and try to plan it well," said Mayor Ed Honea. "I don't know if all concepts will work for everybody, but we're trying to do something and building a community that we'll really be proud of."
It's been almost a year since town officials decided at a council retreat last September that they wanted to go "above and beyond" to plan for the future, said Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat. In that time, he said, the town has accomplished a "tremendous amount of work" that would have taken most bodies years to do.
The town's accomplishments are a result of the council's vision, a sense of urgency about developing a long-range plan, and interest in the development community, Reuwsaat said, adding that Marana already has large-scale developers beating Marana to the punch to raise the bar for new projects.
Denzak encouraged the town to consider the idea of creating a design manual for the town center that can serve as a marketing package to promote and attract development. In other words, something town officials can hand to developers and say, "Here's our plan for our Town Center."
"We're imagining there's going to be great interest, great demand and great need to have office space that might be adjacent to the town's municipal complex for people who do business with the town … attorneys, real estate agents, perhaps some architects and a range of different kinds of companies," he said.
Parking is an issue Denzak said the town should be attentive to when approving development. The town has allowed an average of more than five parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, he said, but the town should look at shared parking options to create an environment that's not about cars or parking but more about pedestrians.
"Today, as we visit some of your current commercial strip mall areas, in our minds, they're over-parked. You have way too many parking spaces and a lot of that is based on your current zoning," he said. "What we're suggesting is that you critically analyze your current parking strategies for zoning and look at a ratio that's more in order of 3.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet."
The proposed Northwest Land Use Plan calls for preserving open space along the Santa Cruz River, promoting a hierarchy of commercial components along Interstate 10 and mixing a wide range of residential densities throughout the land - with extremely little farm land left undeveloped.
"We've talked a lot about low density, medium density and high density, but what the hell does it mean? People don't know," Denzak said, adding that the town needs to spend time talking with those people in the near future so they can "understand what the plan really represents."
"The primary goal is to preserve a sense of community by promoting the area's agricultural heritage, focusing civic functions in the Town Center, providing interconnectivity through the establishment of multipurpose paths," he said. "We're talking about moving away from the sense of sameness and production and creating a unique and special place for Marana."